Oct. 20, 2017
The Gulls (2-1-0-0, 4 pts.) begin a back-to-back matchup with the Stockton Heat (2-2-0-0) tonight at Stockton Arena (7 p.m., Mighty 1090-AM) in the first of eight matchups this season. Tonight marks the first of three consecutive games over the next six days between the two clubs, including tomorrow night at Stockton Arena (6 p.m.) and Wednesday evening at Valley View Casino Center in San Diego (7 p.m.). Stockton, the primary affiliate of the Calgary Flames won seven of 10 matchups against San Diego last season (7-2-0-1), including a 4-0-0-1 record at Stockton Arena. Stockton is coming off a fourth place finish in the Pacific Division (34-25-7-2, .566%) a season ago and the first playoff appearance in their history.
San Diego enters tonight with the second-highest win percentage among Western Conference clubs the past three seasons (84-43-7-4, .644%), and the Gulls also have the most wins in the Pacific Division since its inception in 2015 (84). San Diego have also earned standings points in 38 of 48 contests dating back to Dec. 26 (34-10-2-2), with the 72 points and .750 win percentage leading the AHL, and the 34 wins tied for the joint most league-wide.
Gulls center Kalle Kossila, who recorded his first multi-point game on Saturday in a 5-1 Gulls win vs. Texas (0-2=2), knows his team must be ready to face a Stockton group that has had success against them in the past.
“I remember they started really hot last year and we were struggling against them,” said Kossila. “We need to be ready and not be surprised with what they are bringing against us. We just need to be ready and play like we played last Saturday night.”
Gulls defenseman Andy Welinski leads club defenseman in scoring early on this season, with points in all three games (1-2=3) and with the first matchup of the season against Stockton, he spoke to the advantages of playing against a familiar Pacific Division opponent.
“That’s how it works a lot of times with those California teams, you play them a lot,” said Welinski, a Duluth, Minn. native. “The experience of playing them last year, we know they are going to be a hard-working team. As long as we play our system we will be fine. Part of the learning process is being able to execute your system against anyone at any time.”
One of the biggest challenges the Gulls will face in Stockton is the Heat’s strong duo of netminders. Both second year goaltenders David Rittich and Jon Gillies have also appeared in the NHL for the parent club in Alberta while they each player more than 30 games last season with the Heat. Gillies, selected in the third round (75th overall) by Calgary in the 2012 NHL Draft, is highly decorated having led the Providence Friars to a national championship in 2014. Despite the obstacles facing them from their opponents’ net, Welinski said the Gulls have a simple mindset going in to the contests.
“You just have to remember they can’t stop everything, you still have got to get pucks to the net,” he added.
In four games this season the Heat are 2-2-0-0 (.500%) and are led in scoring by Mark Jankowski (4-3=7), a first round selection by Calgary in 2012 (21st overall), and Andrew Mangipane, (3-4=7) also a Calgary draft selection (166th overall in 2015) in the sixth round in 2015. As a rookie, Jankowski also led the Heat in scoring a season ago with 27 goals and 56 points in 64 games.
On the San Diego side, Corey Tropp led all active Gulls skaters with nine points (4G/5A) last season against Stockton and in the previous two seasons has earned 11 points (4G/7A) in 14 games vs. the Heat.
This week in practice the coaching staff has stressed that San Diego focus on having better starts to games after falling behind in two of their first three contests.
“I think we can do a better job of starting games, of getting control of them,” said Gulls defenseman Marcus Pettersson on getting off to better starts. “We just have to build up from here.”