Nov. 8, 2017

Curtis McKenzie scored a hat trick and added two assists as the Texas Stars skated to a 6-2 victory over the San Diego Gulls on Wednesday night at Valley View Casino Center. The Stars (6-6-0-1) netted three power play goals in the win, with center Travis Morin matching a career high with four assists.

Andy Welinski and Giovanni Fiore scored power play goals for the Gulls (5-5-1-0), who converted their 15th and 16th goals of the season with the man advantage, tied for the most in the American Hockey League.

Noting a roster taxed by injuries in both San Diego and with NHL parent club Anaheim, head coach Dallas Eakins stressed patience and a long view after the tough result.

“It’s important for our staff to breathe a little bit here,” Eakins noted. “We’ve got six rookie forwards up front right now, two rookie defensemen, and two in their second year, and a goaltender in his second year. When you have an older lineup, the ups and downs are less. Tonight we saw a big valley, and we’re hopeful that our game will be much better on Friday.”

Texas started quickly in the first period, capitalizing on a Gulls turnover just outside their blue line. Samuel Laberge worked a 2-on-1 with Colin Markison, feeding across from left to right wing for Markison’s forehand finish, and a 1-0 Stars lead at 2:58.

San Diego was whistled for consecutive minor penalties for too many men on the ice in the first period, and the Stars were able to capitalize on their second man advantage, with Travis Morin passing from the halfwall to the end line and Curtis McKenzie. The Stars top forward threaded a close-quarters pass to Brian Flynn, who skated across the net before finishing on his backhand for a 2-0 edge at 9:42.

“We didn’t seem ready to play, we weren’t sharp with our line changes, and we didn’t seem to ever totally come out of it,” said head coach Dallas Eakins, “It was a head shaking night for sure.”

McKenzie took control in the middle frame, scoring back-to-back goals at 11:21 and 13:02 of the second period. His first goal came on a Texas power play, after San Diego’s Steve Oleksy was sent to the penalty box for interference. The second was an even-strength tip of rookie Roope Hintz’s low wrist shot from the high slot, with Travis Morin earning the second of his four assists on the night.

The Gulls would lean on their power play to open their comeback bid late in the second period when defenseman Andy Welinski’s wrist shot from the right point snuck its way through traffic and into the net at 17:53. Welinski’s four power play goals lead AHL defensemen, while his eight power play points are second among AHL blue liners.

Fiore’s third goal of the year came on a determined attempt from the right circle. After missing the net on a pair of chances, the rookie forward blasted home a rising wrister at 5:24 of the third period.

Texas forward Max French tallied his first goal of the season at 1:34 of the third, while McKenzie finished his hat trick and earned his career-best fifth point by tipping a Morin wrist shot at 12:03 of the final period to round out the scoring.

The Gulls continue a season, long five-game homestand when the Stockton Heat visit Friday night for the start of the club’s third annual Military Weekend (7 p.m.). All fans in attendance will receive a camouflage hat.

Three Stars:
1. Curtis McKenzie (TEX)
2. Travis Morin (TEX)
3. Brian Flynn (TEX)