Dec. 16, 2017

The Gulls host the third annual Teddy Bear Toss tonight as the club’s three-game homestand continues tonight with their against the Stockton Heat at Valley View Casino Center (7 p.m., Mighty 1090-AM). This evening’s contest is the final meeting between the two clubs in San Diego this season, and a rematch of Wednesday night’s raucous affair which saw 115 combined penalty minutes and the second consecutive third period comeback by the Gulls which resulted in a 5-3 win that was among the most exciting of the season.

The Gulls (11-11-1-0, 23 pts.), with the help of their league-leading power play (24.3%) have won four of their last five games (4-1-0-0) and are aiming to knock off the Pacific Division-leading Heat (14-7-1-2, 31 pts.) for the second time this week.

“I think it’s going to be a physical game,” said left wing Nic Kerdiles. “You just expect the same thing out of Stockton every game and we just have to up our level and keep playing well. We are excited to play them again, it’s always fun.”

In addition to the physical rivalry, another factor in tonight’s game will be tonight’s theme of the Teddy Bear Toss. When the Gulls score their first goal, fans are encouraged to throw teddy bears onto the ice for charity. The bears are donated to the San Diego Law Enforcement Teddy Bear Drive which benefits Rady Children’s Hospital. The Gulls are clearly anxious to be the one to score the goal that triggers the league-leaders in attendance to rain bears onto the ice.

“I think everybody (wants to be the guy) in this locker room. Not everyone gets to do that in their lifetime,” added Kerdiles when asked about scoring the first goal of the game to trigger the frenzy. “To be the person to score that goal would be pretty cool. I think we all are going to be hungry for that first goal.”

The first two Teddy Bear Tosses haven’t gone according to plan for San Diego, with the inaugural year proving a false alarm with a disallowed goal accidentally triggering fans to throw there bears immediately after the red light came on. The goal was ruled to not have entered the net, and a strange moment with the false alarm.

Last season against this same Heat club, Stockton goaltender Jon Gillies made 48 saves in an incredible performance to deny a traditional Teddy Bear Toss for the home club. The team understands the desire to not allow a third game force an untraditional event of bears showering the ice and getting on the board early to get the event out of the way is key.

“Let’s try and get a legitimate teddy toss this year,” said Gulls defenseman Brian Cooper. “The last two were technicalities. (Let’s) get it early and it can be done.”

San Diego and Stockton face off for the sixth of eight matchups during the 2017-18 season series, and the fourth and final time in San Diego. All-time, San Diego has a 11-12-3-1 record against Stockton in 26 matchups since 2015, with San Diego posting an 8-3-2-0 record on home ice. Kalle Kossila leads all active Gulls skaters with 13 points (6-7=13) in 17 games while Corey Tropp co-leads the club in assists (7) in 16 career games.

While Gulls defenseman Brian Cooper was impressed with his team’s performance on Wednesday night, he explained there is a extra motivation that comes with facing the Heat and reiterated what the club needs to do to win again tonight.

“It was one of those things, it was back-and-forth, it was physical,” said Cooper. “It was just all around a good game. We were sick of Stockton coming in and pushing us around in the first half of the season the last two years. We want to prove that last game wasn’t a fluke. We are not going to get pushed around again. We just have to play our game honestly the exact same way we played Wednesday night and we will be just fine.”

The Heat remain in first place atop the Pacific Division and second in the Western Conference despite dropping more points after leading the Ontario Reign last night, 1-0 and 2-1, only to fall 4-3 in a shootout. The overtime loss marked the second consecutive game the Heat lost after leading 1-0 and 2-1. Left wing Andrew Mangiapane leads the team in scoring with 27 points (10G/17A) in 24 games. Mangiapane, a sixth round selection (166th overall) of the Calgary Flames in the 2015 NHL Draft, ranks sixth in the AHL in points and is fourth in the league with a +15 rating. Second in scoring is Slovak center Marek Hrivik who has recorded 25 points (8G/17A) in 21 games.

Between the pipes for Stockton, goaltender Jon Gillies is looking to bounce back from his defeat on Wednesday. The Concord, N.H. native currently ranks 10th in the AHL with a 2.34 goals-against-average (GAA) and a .927 save-percentage (SV%). Gillies is paired in a goalie tandem with Swedish netminder Eddie Lack.

A native of Norrtalje, Sweden, Lack would be expected to start tonight after Gillies faced Ontario last night and would be starting his third game in four nights. A veteran of 140 NHL games with Vancouver, Carolina and most recently Calgary, he has earned a 55-53-18 record with a 2.60 GAA and .909 SV% at the NHL level. In 116 career AHL games with Stockton, Charlotte, Chicago and Manitoba, Lack has a 58-46-1 record with 10 shutouts, a 2.35 GAA and .923 SV%.