Jan. 17, 2017

TUCSON, Ariz. – Giovanni Fiore scored three third period goals to complete the second natural hat trick in Gulls history to help erase a 3-0 deficit into a 5-3 win over the Tucson Roadrunners on Wednesday morning at Tucson Convention Center Arena. San Diego (20-15-1-0, 41 pts, .569 win %) trailed Tucson 3-0 at 9:35 of the second period, but the Gulls’ five consecutive goals tied the largest deficit overcome in a win in club history. The comeback win marked the 10th for San Diego this season.

The two previous deficits of three goals overcome were on Jan. 3, 2016 at San Antonio (trailed 3-0 at 4:17 of the third period to win 4-3) and Apr. 6, 2016 vs. Bakersfield (trailed 3-0 at 2:58 of second period and 5-2 of the second period at 15:52 to win 6-5 in overtime).

Fiore’s hat trick was the third in Gulls history and his second career multi-goal game (also Dec. 1 at Ontario). His natural hat trick was the second in the past seven games for San Diego, following the first in club history by Corey Tropp on Jan. 3 at Texas (3-0=3) in a span of 3:32 in the second period. Surprisingly, all three hat tricks in Gulls history have come on the road.

“We wanted to beat these guys badly and we came out strong. We battled all along and it paid off,” said Fiore. “Sometimes it doesn’t always go your way. The hockey gods are always watching over you. You don’t get a bounce but then if you keep hacking at it, it will pay off eventually.”

Gulls goaltender Reto Berra (9-5-0) kept San Diego in the game to mount their third-period comeback as he stopped 34 shots en route to his fourth win in his last five starts where he has posted a 2.01 goals-against average and .940 save percentage with one shutout. He has also won six of his last seven road starts (6-1-0) and is 7-2-0 in nine road starts this season.

“I thought it was one of our better games as of late. We addressed it after the second period. We were playing so well and the scoreboard said differently,” said Gulls head coach Dallas Eakins. “It’s like you are climbing this mountain, you keep going up and hit some ice and fall back further. You keep climbing, climbing, climbing. I will say I was really proud of the guys, they stuck with the game plan even when we were down. We just kept coming, and coming and coming, and we were rewarded.”

Despite the early start, the Gulls came out of the gate flying as they recorded six of the game’s first seven shots. Sam Carrick and Kevin Roy both had breakaways in the opening 10 minutes but were turned away by Tucson netminder Adin Hill (8-9-1). The Roadrunners (20-12-2-1, 43 pts, .614 win %) pushed back late in the period as they capitalized off a San Diego turnover in their defensive zone and Mike Sislo made the Gulls pay. The forward’s wrist shot from the right circle found its way over Berra’s blocker to open the scoring at 13:22.

The second period would not be kind to San Diego as Tucson scored two goals in a span of 58 seconds. Jens Looke was able to make a break down the right side of the ice, isolating Gulls defenseman Andy Welinski on a 2-on-1. Looke slid the puck over to teammate Mario Kempe who deked and backhanded the puck past Berra to double the Roadrunners lead at 8:37. Michael Bunting won a puck in the right circle and beat Berra glove side to increase the lead to 3-0 at 9:35 to make it 3-0.

The Gulls finally solved Hill with 34 seconds to go in the middle frame when Eric Fehr scored his team-leading 12th goal of the season. Dennis Rasmussen made a sensational backhand pass from the left circle to find a wide open Fehr in the low slot and he converted his opportunity to bring San Diego within two as the clubs headed into the second intermission.

After killing off an early third period penalty, the Gulls struck again at the 5:01 mark. Joe Blandisi passed up a shot from the left circle and found Giovanni Fiore across the slot who one-timed the puck past Hill for to pull San Diego within one. Fiore would get right back on the scoresheet just over two minutes later after defenseman Jaycob Megna found the winger on a stretch pass to spring him on a breakaway where his quick snap shot beat Hill’s glove hand to tie the game at 3-3.

The left winger would make history at 12:28 when he deposited Carrick’s pass from behind the net past Hill, giving San Diego their first lead of the morning at 4-3. The hat trick was just the third in Gulls franchise history.

“We went about it a little different way tonight. We wanted to have four lines that were all dangerous,” added Eakins. “He has worked hard and I know he has been frustrated as of late but that goal late just as the power play had expired last game and for him to came out roaring tonight.”

Blandisi scored into the empty net from deep within his own zone at 17:38 to make it 5-3 and ice the contest. The empty-net goal also completed a three point day (1G/2A) for Blandisi, his first as a Gull. Megna picked an assist on the final tally, marking his first career three-assist game.

“We showed up. We had two games that we weren’t happy with playing these guys,” said Megna. “It didn’t matter what time this game was at we were going to bring it. I thought right from the get-go we set the tone. We played a great game, probably one of the best, if not the best game we have played all year.”

San Diego will look to build off of their most dramatic win of the season when they return home to commence a back-to-back weekend matchup with the San Jose Barracuda on Friday, Jan. 19 at Valley View Casino Center (7 p.m.). Friday’s game will see all fans in attendance receive a Kalle Kossila bobblehead in celebration of the lacrosse-style goal he scored on Jan. 20, 2017 vs. San Jose. Saturday evening’s game against the Barracuda is Diversity Night (7 p.m.).

“What has certainly happened over the last four weeks is the expectations within our dressing room, man-to-man and with our staff, they are much higher,” said Eakins. “We weren’t happy, we were a little angry coming into this game. Again, I put it on the players from the leadership and the will of our younger players as well. I thought that was a real statement game today.”

Three Stars:
1. G. Fiore (SD)
2. J. Megna (SD)
3. J. Blandisi (SD)