By Glen Miller
SAN DIEGO – Someone may need to tell first-year pro Nick Ritchie that it won’t always be so easy after the big winger netted the first two goals of his burgeoning career in a 4-2 Gulls win over Grand Rapids. San Diego downed Grand Rapids in front of 12,920 eager fans on Saturday night at Valley View Casino Center.
Ritchie, originally drafted by Anaheim in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft (10th overall), demonstrated why he was one of the final cuts from Ducks Training Camp and why he is widely considered one of the games top prospects. The 6’2”, 232 pound forward scored the first goal of the game on the power play at 15:01 of period one, corralling a loose puck near the left post and snapping it short-side past Griffins goalie Jared Coreau. He would later tally what would ultimately turn out to be the game-winner in the third period, taking advantage of a bad bounce off the end boards and waiting out Coreau before sniping a wrist shot, stick-side high.
Gulls blue-liner Brandon Montour, chosen by the Ducks in the second round of the 2014 NHL Draft, also scored on the power play, giving San Diego a two-goal lead in the second period.
With the primary assist on Montour’s second period PPG, Center Chris Mueller, a veteran of 53 NHL games spread out over parts of five seasons, recorded two helpers on the night. Mueller also added on an empty-net goal scored by LW Antoine Laganiere late in period three.
John Gibson contributed a superb outing between the pipes for the Gulls, holding the Griffins to just two goals in earning his first win of the season. Gibson, one of the NHL’s highest-rated goaltending prospects, was especially solid in the first period when Grand Rapids held a distinct territorial advantage and outshot the Gulls by a 15 – 7 margin.
Late in the third frame and with Grand Rapids surging in search of the tying goal, Gibson made what may have been his two biggest saves of the evening. First he slid to his right to stop a one-time effort before lunging far to the opposite post, robbing a Griffins player of what looked like an easy rebound goal into an open cage.
Nick Tangradi and Colin Campbell each notched goals for the Griffins, both times drawing Grand Rapids within one.
It wasn’t only on the ice where the Gulls came out on top. Saturday night’s official attendance of 12,920 is the highest single-game total in the AHL so far.
Prior to the game, Gulls (and Ducks) owners Henry and Susan Samueli participated in a short press conference and touched on their confidence in San Diego as a strong hockey market.
“This (San Diego) is a large and diverse population with a strong hockey tradition that we very much want to become a part of and help grow,” said Susan Samueli.
Henry Samueli added that the organization’s view for the Gulls is to make a lasting impact both on the ice and in the community.
“As coach Eakins (Gulls head coach Dallas Eakins) said at his introductory news conference, our goal here is two-fold: we will develop great players and future stars for the Anaheim Ducks and continue our pursuit of a second Stanley Cup, but at the same time we plan and expect to compete for a Calder Cup on the ice here in San Diego.”
Henry Samueli continued, praising the early support received from San Diego hockey fans.
“The fans of San Diego deserve our thanks. They’ve longed for a hockey team for 10 years and we’ve heard them in Anaheim. Since we announced the launch of our franchise, the sports fans in San Diego have, at every turn, surpassed and exceeded our expectations. Tonight’s sellout, building on the success of our Hockey Fest Franchise Kickoff and other events, shows that San Diegans are passionate sports fans.”
If opening night is a portend of things to come, the Gulls are well on their way to rewarding the Samuelis for their faith in San Diego.
LW – Nick Ritchie
C – Michael Sgarbossa
RW – Max Friberg
D – Shea Theodore
D – Jaycob Megna
G – John Gibson
1 – Nick Ritchie (20)
2 – Shea Theodore (27)
3 – Brandon Montour (26)
First Captain and Alternates: No team captain. RW’s Brian McGrattan and Max Friberg, and D Joe Piskula serving as alternates.
First Penalty: RW Ondrej Kase, 2:00 for tripping.
First Fighting Major: LW Harry Zolnierczyk
First Goal: LW Nick Ritchie
First PP Goal: Ritchie
The Gulls return to action Friday, October 16th at Valley View Casino Center as they host the Bakersfield Condors, the AHL affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers. San Diego is honoring former Gulls great Willie O’Ree by raising the legend’s #20 jersey to the rafters. O’Ree was the first African-American player to suit up in the NHL and spent seven years as a member of the Gulls in the 60’s and 70’s.