Nov. 3, 2017
The Gulls begin a home-and-home series against the Ontario Reign tonight at Valley View Casino Center (7 p.m., Mighty 1090 AM) for the first of 12 meetings between the two clubs. Coming off of a successful road trip that saw San Diego capture three of a possible four points from Texas and San Antonio, the Gulls (4-3-1-0, 9 pts.) have won two of the last three games and earned points in all three (2-0-1).
San Diego opens a 10-game November schedule that sees the club play nine of the 10 contests in California and all against Pacific Division Opponents. The Gulls have the highest win percentage among Western Conference clubs the past three seasons (86-46-8-4, .639%), and the Gulls also have the most wins in the Pacific Division since its inception in 2015 (86).
San Diego has a 36-12-3-2 record since Dec. 26, 2016, with the .726 win percentage leading the AHL, 77 points second and 36 wins tied for second among AHL clubs.
The Gulls will face the Reign for the first time since eliminating their Southern California rival in the deciding Game 5 of the First Round of the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs. Tonight also marks the fourth set of 17 back-to-backs this season where the Gulls are 2-3-1-0 in back-to-backs, including 0-2-1-0 in the first game 2-1-0-0 in the second contest.
In 2016-17 these clubs met 12 times with San Diego posting a 6-4-1-1 record and a 2-3-1-0 mark at Valley View Casino Center (4-1-0-1 at Citizens Business Bank Arena). All-time, the Gulls are 14-8-1-1 vs. Ontario in the regular season (6-5-1-0 at home, 8-3-0-1 on road). The two foes also met in the Pacific Division Finals of the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs where the Reign eliminated the Gulls in five games (4-1).
“We’ve played them so many times, we are going to expect a team that’s extremely structured, a team that works hard, and team that is well-conditioned and very similar to us,” said Gulls left wing Jordan Samuels-Thomas. “It’s a lot like playing ourselves. We have got to eliminate mistakes.”
Despite losing their first six games of the season in regulation, the Reign have rebounded with two straight wins, earning victories over the Cleveland Monsters and San Jose Barracuda coming into tonight’s matchup.
“They are a hungry team right now,” said Gulls defenseman Andy Welinski. “They have started a little slow and they are going to be ready to go. Anybody can win on any night. We need to do our best to start right and set the tone for the weekend.”
The Reign are led in scoring by forwards Michael Mersch (3-4=7) and Jonny Brodzinski (3-3=6). Both players were selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the NHL Draft, with Mersch a fourth round selection (110th overall) of the 2011 NHL Draft, and Brodzinksi a fifth round selection (148th overall) of the 2013 draft. Backstopping the Reign is veteran netminder Jack Campbell, a former first round pick of the Dallas Stars in 2010 (11th overall) who earns the yeomen’s work between the pipes for Ontario.
The San Diego power play will be something to watch for tonight, with the third-ranked unit in the AHL having scored in each of the eight games this season, a club record.
“I think it’s just confidence now, we scored a few goals and guys are feeling it out there,” said right wing Spencer Abbott, who co-leads the Gulls with eight points (2-6=8). “It’s easier when guys are on the same page and I think we have been for most of the games this year. We have a little bit of everything. Guys that can shoot, guys that can pass, guys that go to the front of the net and don’t mind standing there and taking a beating.”
For Welinski, there have been certain nuances that have helped give the Gulls man advantage, with a focal point to getting shots through to the net early and often from the point.
“I think we have been doing a good job of a getting a shot presence early and finding some more space out there,” added Welinski. “All the guys out there have been able to make plays. Starting with a shooting presence gives those guys a little extra time and that has been big for us.”
All fans in attendance tonight will receive a blue mustache in celebration of Movember as the Gulls begin a month-long campaign to raise awareness for men’s health initiatives.