Oct. 2, 2017

T.J. Hensick’s goal at 8:29 of the second period broke a 1-1 tie, and the Ontario Reign (3-0-0) held on for a 2-1 victory over the San Diego Gulls at Honda Center. In the third annual game at the home of the Anaheim Ducks, The Gulls’ National Hockey League affiliate, San Diego (0-2-0-1) saw Giovanni Fiore score a power play goal in his Gulls preseason debut, but were unable to find the tying goal in the third period despite a sustained effort.

The Gulls saw the additions of three forwards and a defenseman to their lineup prior to the game, with the assignments of center Kalle Kossila, wingers Fiore and Scott Sabourin, and 2015 Ducks first round draft pick Jacob Larsson. All four played in the exhibition finale, with Kossila providing the lone assist on Fiore’s goal.

Veteran defenseman Steve Oleksy, himself a newcomer to San Diego, sees the quick development of the Gulls as a productive work in progress.

“A lot will come with time,” said Oleksy. “There’s a lot of up-and-down movement here, and a lot of new faces without much of a chance to practice together. Even from last game to this game I feel guys are growing, and with that comes confidence.”

A scoreless first period saw exemplary work in the crease from both team’s goaltenders. Reign rookie Cal Peterson (Notre Dame) stopped seven shots in the opening frame, including a fine glove stop denying a right wing bid from Julius Nattinen. Kevin Boyle, in his second season with the Gulls, turned aside all 12 shots he faced in the first frame, finishing the contest with 33 saves.

The second period saw the ice open up a bit, with both teams exchanging rushes. After a Gulls opportunity came up short, the Reign were quick to counter on a 3-on-2 through the neutral zone. Sam Herr’s drop pass to the trailing Matt Schmalz triggered the forward through the slot, where his deke to the backhand cleared Boyle’s charging poke check, opening the net for the game’s first goal at 3:08.

Schmalz quickly found himself instigating a fight with San Diego’s Mike Liambas on the game’s next shift, and the resulting two-minute minor gave the Gulls a power play opportunity. Skating with pace through center ice, Kossila fed Fiore on right wing, who wristed a left handed rocket over the right pad and under the glove of Peterson for the equalizer at 3:52 of the frame.

The Reign game winner came off a turnover behind the Gulls net, with Phillipe Maillet setting up Hensick for a quick snap shot. The puck rocketed off right post and then in and out of the net, originally missed on ice but quickly confirmed on replay as a goal for the 2-1 lead at 8:29 of the second.

Boyle stopped 13 third period shots to keep the Gulls within reach, but despite an early power-play opportunity, San Diego could not level the score.

The Gulls will open the 2017-18 regular season on Saturday at Tucson when they face the Roadrunners at Tucson Arena (7:05 p.m.). The team will return home on Friday, October 13 to host the Texas Stars in the team’s home opener (7 p.m., FOX 5 San Diego).

Three Stars:
1. T.J. Hensick (ONT)
2. Matt Schmalz (ONT)
3. Giovanni Fiore (SD)