Preview: Gulls Return To Pechanga Arena for Home Opener
Gulls open 2019-20 home schedule tonight vs. the Stockton Heat.Oct 17, 2019
Hockey returns to San Diego tonight, marking the Gulls fifth home opener in club history ans the Gulls host the Stockton Heat tonight at Pechanga Arena (7 p.m., Stream: AHLTV, Radio: San Diego Gulls Audio Network). With the return of Gulls hockey, each fan in attendance will receive a rally towel, with Friday will mark the first of this season’s $2 Bud Light Nights. Pregame festivities will begin early and all fans encouraged to be in their seats by 6:55 p.m. for the opening sequence and player introductions.
San Diego is 2-2-0-0 in their previous four home openers, winning the first two contests on home ice at Pechanga Arena, including the first-ever Gulls AHL contest Oct. 10, 2015 vs. Grand Rapids (4-2 win) in addition to Oct. 14, 2016 vs. Tucson (5-3 win). San Diego has outscored opponents 12-11 in home openers. Tonight’s matchup will be the first time the Gulls host a team from California in its home opener. The club has also opened is home schedule against Tucson, Oct. 12, 2018 (3-2 loss) and Texas, Oct. 13, 2017 (3-1 loss).
The Gulls and the Heat will meet for the second matchup of their 12-game season series, and the final contest of a home-and-away set in a six-day span between the two clubs. San Diego holds an all-time 15-18-3-3 record against Stockton, earning a 9-7-2-1 record at home. The Gulls posted a 3-4-0-1 record against the Heat in 2018-19 in addition to a 3-1-0-0 mark at Stockton Arena. Sam Carrick paced all active skaters in scoring (4-8=12), goals and assists in eight contests vs. Stockton last season.
San Diego searches for their first win of the season along with some redemption as they enter the game with a 0-3-0-0 record. Six days ago, the two teams met in a 5-3 victory for the Heat. The Gulls opened the scoring with a Kiefer Sherwood goal early in the first frame, but four unanswered Heat goals were enough in the end.
Jack Kopacka and Andrew Poturalski scored within a minute of each other cutting the Stockton lead to 4-3 in the third with 4:29 on the clock, but the comeback fell short when Heat forward Buddy Robinson scored an empty net goal with 52 seconds in the game.
“There are a lot of areas that need to be pinpointed and addressed this week,” said head coach Kevin Dineen following a practice earlier in the week. “There are a lot of learning points to take care of. We need to be better on the offensive side, but we feel that our defensive game drives our offense. We have too many leaks in our game in that area, but an area we will address and look forward to getting back on the ice. We have a lot of time between games at the beginning of the season, so this home opener after a tough start has some extra importance to it.”
The third-period in Saturday’s contest finally ended a run of eight periods with one goal or less, and the Gulls know they can build off of that positive momentum heading into Friday’s rematch.
“We’re going to build off the positives which is having a good push back at the end,” said Sam Carrick following the setback to Stockton. “We obviously want to have a better start. That goal by Kiefer was huge and then we laid off the gas a bit and let them get back into the game. We have a lot to work on, we’re going to have a long week of practice. That game at home can’t come soon enough.”
The Gulls led the AHL in attendance the last two seasons and have led the Pacific Division in attendance since the inception of the division in 2015-16. In the 2017-18 season, they averaged 9,305 fans per game and last season they brought in an average of 9,021 of fans per game. San Diego was the first team in 12 seasons to usurp the Hershey Bears from the top of the league’s attendance charts.
“It’s been a while” said Sherwood on the lengthy spell since the team’s last game on home ice. “The fans will be ready, we’re ready. Our home crowd is our advantage for a reason. We’ve had three straight home openers against us, so now it’s time to turn the tide and use the crowd to our advantage.”
Seven players acquired via free agency this past offseason will potentially make their season debut in Alex Broadhurst, Jani Hakanpaa, Andreas Martinsen, Blake Pietila, Andrew Poturalski, Anthony Stolarz, and Chris Wideman.
Stockton began the season with a perfect 3-0-0-0 mark, their best start in club history. Even though they enter tonight’s game coming off a 6-2 loss to Bakersfield on Tuesday, it remains the best start in their club’s history with three wins through their first four games. In the past two games, Stockton’s Dillon Dube picked up three assists, while Eetu Tuulola has collected three points (2-1=3), with the latter earning his first career goal last Saturday.
Byron Froese (2-2=4), Brandon Davidson (1-3=4) and Glenn Gawdin (1-3=4) co-lead Stockton in scoring through the team’s first four games, while the aforementioned Robinson leads with three goals (3-0=3). Goaltnder Artyom Zagidulin, a 24-year old Russian native has started all four games in net for the Heat, winning his first three career AHL starts before dropping Tuesday’s contest to the Condors. Zagidulin has posted a 3.38 goals-against average and .889 save percentage to date but co-leads the AHL with his three wins.