Oct. 7, 2017

The Gulls open their third season of American Hockey League play tonight against the Tucson Roadrunners at Tucson Arena (7:05 p.m., Mighty 1090) in the first of 12 meetings between the two clubs. Tonight marks San Diego’s first-ever season-opening game on the road. San Diego is 2-0 in season openers, winning the previous two contests on home ice at Valley View Casino Center, including the first-ever Gulls AHL contest Oct. 1-, 2015 vs. Grand Rapids (4-2 win) and Oct. 14, 2016 vs. Tucson (5-3 win).

The Gulls enter the 2017-18 season having finished second in the Pacific Division and advanced to the Pacific Division Final of the Calder Cup Playoffs in back-to-back seasons. Over the past two seasons, San Diego ranks second in win percentage among Western Conference clubs (.643%), while the club has the most win in the Pacific Division since its inception in 2015 (82). San Diego has earned 84 points each of the two seasons, the only Pacific Division team to accomplish the feat since the division’s creation.

Last season, the Gulls (43-20-3-2; 91 points, .669 win %) reached the Pacific Division Finals of the Calder Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive year prior to being eliminated by the San Jose Barracuda in a tightly contested five game series.

With a deep, talented group of prospects and veterans, San Diego’s 2017-18 regular-season roster of 26 includes 15 forwards, eight defensemen and three goaltenders. The Gulls have seven Anaheim draft selections from the first three rounds of the NHL Draft on the active roster, including Jacob Larsson (first round, 27th overall in 2015); Nic Kerdiles (second round, 36th overall in 2012), Marcus Pettersson (second round, 38th overall in 2014), Julius Nattinen (second round, 59th overall in 2015), Andy Welisnki (third round, 83rd overall in 2011), Deven Sideroff (third round, 84th overall in 2015) and Keaton Thompson (third round, 87th overall in 2013).

Third year head coach Dallas Eakins has the Gulls primed to make a deeper playoff run this spring while keeping some things in mind.

“We have two goals, they are equal. We want to win and we want to develop,” said Eakins, referencing the team’s role as the primary affiliate for the National Hockey League’s Anaheim Ducks.

In 2016-17 the Gulls and Roadrunners met 12 times in the regular season in Pacific Division play, with San Diego posting a 10-1-0-1 record overall and a 6-0-0-0 mark at Tucson Arena. San Diego averaged over four goals per game vs. Tucson a season ago (4.3), while holding the Roadrunners to 2.0 goals per game. The Gulls also enjoyed a 24 percent success rate on the power play, converting on 12-of-50 opportunities. The 2016-17 campaign twice saw the Gulls score eight goals against Tucson (Jan. 25, and Mar. 31). Corey Tropp (7-6=13) leads all active Gulls skaters in goals and points vs. Tucson, while Kalle Kossila led the team in assists (9). Defenseman Andy Welinski scored the first hat trick in club history (3-1=4) on Mar. 31, 2017 in Tucson.

This season the Roadrunners will be looking to improve upon their inaugural campaign in their second season in the desert after relocating from Springfield, Mass. in 2016. Last year the Coyotes’ primary affiliate put up a record of 29-31-8-0 and finished in sixth place in the Pacific Division. The Roadrunners will certainly be eager to have a better start against the Gulls this time around.

One of the Gulls making their AHL debut tonight will be Swedish rookie defenseman Marcus Pettersson. For the 6-4 blueliner who is playing his first regular season contest in North America, tonight is about keeping the game simple.

“Play hard, try and play physical and fast,” said Pettersson when asked what he is trying to bring tonight. “I want to play aggressive and get up in the play.”

Finnish center Kalle Kossila has a similar mindset going in to the contest after an incredible rookie season that saw him score 14-34=48 points with a +19 rating in 2016-17.

“It’s about protecting the puck down low, making plays, playing the 200-foot game defensively and offensively to get some scoring chances,” said the second-year Finnish native.

With 17 returning players and nine added to the core group that is looking to continue last year’s progression, Eakins constantly harps on work ethic and determination.

“It’s will over skill,” said Eakins said when describing his team’s attitude and motto to start the year. “We want to have a high will factor.”

Kossila spoke for his teammates when he summed up his thoughts about getting the regular season underway tonight.

“It’s huge,” he said. “There have been enough exhibition games. It’s finally time to play a real game.”

The Gulls home opener is less than a week away, with the first home regular season contest set for Friday, Oct. 13 vs. the Texas Stars at Valley View Casino Center (7 p.m., FOX 5 San Diego/Mighty 1090).