January 29, 2016
SAN DIEGO – The San Diego Gulls were unable to penetrate the AHL’s top defense, falling by a 2-0 count to the Ontario Reign at Valley View Casino Center. A crowd of 11,538, the second largest of the season in San Diego, saw the Gulls drop their season-worst fifth straight at home, falling to 19-18-1-1 at the league’s All-Star Break.
Michael Mersch and Jeff Schultz scored for Ontario (25-10-3-1), and Peter Budaj stopped all 21 shots faced for his sixth shutout of the season and second straight against the Gulls. After winning four straight against the defending Calder Cup champions (formerly the Manchester Monarchs), San Diego has now been shut out for 121:15 consecutive minutes against the Reign.
Defensive giveaways have been a consistent issue in San Diego losses this season, and the trend continued on Friday night in the final seconds of the game’s first period. Skating backward under pressure in his own zone, Gulls rookie defenseman Brandon Montour’s attempted clearance up the middle instead banked off the leg of Ontario’s Ryan Horvat into the air. Michael Mersch gloved the puck down and fired home his fourteenth goal of the season, a snap shot past Matt Hackett at 19:54 on the clock.
Ontario doubled their lead on a second period power play, as Nic Dowd dug a loose puck out of the corner and spotted Jeff Schultz skating in unguarded down the middle. Schultz had time to stick handle multiple times before beating Hackett low past the right pad for just his second goal of the season at 5:52.
San Diego was held to six shots in both the first and third period and the Reign fashioned their sixth shutout of the season, dropping their AHL-best team goals-against average to 1.95 per game.
The Gulls head into the AHL All-Star Break in fourth position in the AHL Pacific Division. San Diego continues a four-game homestand on Friday, February 5 against the Stockton Heat.
NOTES: The Reign improved to 19-0-1-0 when scoring first and are 15-0-0 when leading after the first period…the Gulls are 0-4-1 in their last five home games after starting the season 9-2-0-1 on home ice…the crowd of 11,583 was the seventh 10,000+ crowd in seventeen home games at Valley View Casino Center…Joseph Cramarossa returned to the Gulls lineup after missing six games with a lower body injury.
1st Star: ONT Peter Budaj (SHO, 21 of 21 saves); 2nd Star: ONT Michael Mersch (1-0=1); 3rd Star: ONT Kyle Clifford