Oct. 13, 2017
The Gulls host the Texas Stars in the third home opener in team history tonight at Valley View Casino Center at 7 p.m. in a game that will be televised on FOX 5 San Diego. Entering tonight’s contest, San Diego has the highest win percentage among Western Conference clubs (.646%) and the most wins in the Pacific Division since its inception in 2015 (83). San Diego has also earned standings points in 37 of 46 contests dating back to Dec. 26 (33-9-2-2), with the 70 points leading the AHL for most points in the league since Dec. 26 of last season.
With the third home opener at Valley View Casino Center, San Diego is 2-0, winning the previous two contests on home ice to kickstar their home schedule, including the first-ever Gulls AHL contest Oct. 10, 2015 vs. Grand Rapids (4-2 win) and Oct. 14, 2016 vs. Tucson (5-3 win).
“Our fans in there (Valley View Casino Center) have got their own culture going,” said head coach Dallas Eakins. “It’s like a seventh player on the ice, and it is a party-like electric culture.”
In a game that expects to kickstart another season on the rise for the Gulls, the fans will be on display as a new season gets underway in the 51-year old Valley View Casino Center. In the building’s 50th year, more than 301,000 fans entered the turnstiles throughout the club’s 34 regular season home games, including three sellouts (12,920 capacity) and 11 games of 10,000 or more fans. The Gulls led the Pacific Division and ranked third in the AHL with an average attendance of 8,876 in the 34 contests behind only Hershey and Cleveland. Tonight’s expected sellout has everyone in the organization excited to get in front of nearly 13,000 loud, energetic hockey fans.
“Everything we have been working towards as an organization is going to be on display,” said left wing Jordan Samuels-Thomas. “Everywhere I go in the city of San Diego I’ll see a Gulls hat, a hoodie or a jersey so it’s pretty cool in the city the size of San Diego to see that brand out there. It makes you feel that pride in putting on that sweater.”
That notion hasn’t been lost on any of the 24 Gulls players, including 15 who were here last season and understand what the San Diego crowd can be for them.
“I’m expecting a great crowd,” said left with Kevin Roy. “The fans were good throughout the year last year when I was here. The season opener is always something special at home. I think everyone is excited to see the crowd and get the energy behind us. Great city, great atmosphere, great fans.”
San Diego and Texas begin a six-game season series tonight against a retooled Texas club (the primary affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Dallas Stars) that will be looking to rebound after finishing seventh in the Pacific Division a year ago with a 34-37-1-4 record and 73 points. The Stars have started off the season strong with back-to-back wins (2-0-0-0) thanks to a pair of 6-5 wins over the Chicago Wolves on home ice, with the second victory coming in overtime.
The Gulls have split the all-time series with the Stars at five games apiece (5-5-0-0), with San Diego posting a 2-3-0-0 record on home ice. The Gulls swept the 2016-17 season series between the two clubs (4-0-0-0), and have also won the last four consecutive matchups.
“Especially year to year and even game to game teams are going to change,” said Gulls defenseman Andy Welinski. “We know we need to come in and play our game and do what we need to do to win.”
Corey Tropp (1-4=5) and Kevin Roy (2-4=6) co-lead all active Gulls skaters in points and assists against the Stars, while Roy leads the club in goals (2). In two starts vs. Texas, goaltender Kevin Boyle is 2-0-0 with one shutout, a 0.50 GAA and .983 SV%.
The Gulls will be looking to shut down Stars center and captain Travis Morin, a former ninth round selection (263rd overall) of the Washington Capitals in 2004. Morin, who in 2016-17 led the Stars in scoring (21-34-55). Morin, along with Dallas Stars 2013 first round pick (29th overall) Jason Dickinson have gotten off to a hot start this season with four points in two games apiece.
Goaltender Mike McKenna started both contests last weekend against Chicago and earned wins despite starting the season allowing 10 goals in the two games. The 34-year old veteran looks to get the nod again tonight ahead of Landon Bow, who has only 16 starts under his belt, all with the Stars last season.