Preview: Home is Where the Best Fans AreOct 11, 2018
Hockey makes its long awaited return to the city of San Diego after five months of anticipation. The San Diego Gulls will host the Tucson Roadrunners tonight at Valley View Casino Center (7 p.m., FOX 5 San Diego, ESPN 1700-AM) in front of an expected sellout crowd that will be loud, raucous and ringing Gulls cowbells that every fan will receive upon entry tonight.
The festivities will begin early with all fans encouraged to be in their seats by 6:55 p.m. for the opening sequence and player introductions.
San Diego and Tucson meet for the second of consecutive games to begin the 2018-19 season and the second matchup of an eight-game season series. All-time, San Diego has earned a 15-9-0-1 record vs. the Roadrunners, earning points in 16 of the 25 matchups (7-4-0-1 at home). In addition, San Diego has outscored Tucson 94-76 all-time, posting a 3.8 goal-per game mark.
The team in their home whites will be seeking redemption against the same Tucson team that defeated them in their season-opening matchup just six days ago at Tucson Convention Center Arena.
The Gulls dropped the season opener by a score of 6-4, but the team saw several players produce on offense despite a depleted lineup with five players out and only 11 forwards available to dress for the contest. Sam Carrick registered 2-1=3 points including the fastest goal to start a season for San Diego, netting a shorthanded goal at 1:27 of the first period. In addition, rookie Jack Kopacka scored his first professional goal and newcomer Chase De Leo registered his first points (1G/1A) as a Gull. Joseph Blandis and Corey Tropp also record multi-point assist games with two each.
“Going into this next game, I think we will be a lot stronger up front with our forwards,” said head coach Dallas Eakins. “The game in Tucson, we had three guys in our lineup from the ECHL. We only dressed 11 forwards instead of 12, but it looks like we’re going to be a little bit deeper coming into the weekend so we’re encouraged by that."
The Gulls led the AHL in attendance (9,305 avg.) in 2017-18, setting new club marks for a third consecutive season in average and overall attendance (316,368), in addition to a record six sellouts. San Diego became the first team in 12 seasons to usurp the Hershey Bears atop the league’s attendance charts. San Diego has also led the Pacific Division in attendance in each of the three years since its inception.
“I don’t have to say much because I hear their teammates already talking to them about (the crowd),” said Eakins. “Word has already spread about our market, our fans and that rabid arena that we have to the new guys that have come in. I sense an excitement, especially from our first-year guys and guys that have maybe played elsewhere, but it’s their first year in San Diego”.
A number of new faces will be playing their first game as a Gull in front of the San Diego crowd as the team will feature11 players that were not on the 2017-18 roster, including several rookies.
Josh Mahura has heard about the crowd that Valley View Casino Center hosts.
“As a home team, when you hear the crowd get going, you definitely feel it on the bench,” said the rookie defenseman who made his professional debut Saturday at Tucson. “If things aren’t going your way, it gives you a boost and if things are going your way, it makes you want to keep going in the right direction. When the fans are into it and cheering you on, it’s a lot of fun”.
“It’s always exciting playing in this building,” said defenseman Steve Oleksy. “To see the fans’ support we received all year was incredible. We’re expecting a big crowd and I think we have a team this year that is going to be an exciting product to watch on the ice”.
In addition to seeing some new players, San Diego will get their first look at newly-appointed captain Jaycob Megna after he was named to his post Saturday before the season opener. Oleksy, Carrick, Tropp and Blandisi will serve as alternate captains this season.
Megna is in his fourth AHL season with San Diego and is now only the second captain in Gulls history after serving the past three seasons as an alternate captain. Megna has collected 8-48=56 points with a +55 rating and 86 penalty minutes (PIM) in 213 career AHL games with San Diego (2015-present) and Norfolk (2013-15). Megna has appeared in 179 games for San Diego since 2015, earning 7-44=51 points with a +56 rating and 80 PIM, leading the Gulls in career games played and plus/minus.
Tucson enters their third season in the AHL and Pacific Division on the heels of their first postseason berth and a first-round series win over San Jose before falling to the Texas Stars (four-games-to-one) in the Pacific Division Finals.
The Roadrunners saw five players register multi-point games while12 appeared on the scoresheet in the season opener. Jens Looke and newcomer Adam Helewka each recorded two goals.
The group of young forwards for the Roadrunners consists of five AHL rookies in their first professional seasons, but they are joined by returning forwards Michael Bunting, Lane Pederson, Hudson Fasching and Looke. In addition, the Arizona Coyotes organization acquired Adam Helewka from San Jose in exchange for defenseman Kyle Wood during the offseason.
“There’s definitely an extra push there when it comes to playing your rival, playing in their home opener,” Hudson Fasching said via the Tucson Roadrunners website following Thursday’s practice. “There’s going to be a lot of energy in the building, no doubt about that, and that’s something that we’re kind of looking at feeding off of, just rolling with everything and using that energy for ourselves and just enjoying ourselves out there.”
The goaltending tandem of Adin Hill and Hunter Miska will again be a deep duo between the pipes for Tucson. The netminders combined to win 41-of-42 games for Tucson last season, while they return defefnsemen Kyle Capbianco, Trevor Murrphy and Dakota Mermis, the latter two having made their NHL debuts in 2017-18, which makes up a mobile defense for the upcoming season. Hill stopped only 16 of San Diego's 20 shots six nights ago to earn his first win of the campaign.
For as much power the home team has when it comes to dictating noise and excitement in the atmosphere, the visiting club has the ability to turn things down, to act as the villain, if you will.
“I think there’s going to be an additional kick of energy for us, they’re going to have a great crowd going for them,” Lane Pederson noted to the visiting club's website. “But as much as that’s an advantage for them, we can use that too, and feed off of that energy, have them as quiet as we can while going in there and playing a good, solid road game, do our job and get the two points that we need.”