Gulls Drop First Game Against WranglersDec 2, 2022
By Brett Pickler/SanDiegoGulls.com
The San Diego Gulls started their eight-game season series against the Calgary Wranglers with a 7-3 loss at Pechanga Arena San Diego.
The Gulls started the game quick, looking to stun one of the top teams in the American Hockey League. Exactly one minute into the game, the Gulls took the lead courtesy of right wing Rocco Grimaldi. He used his skating ability to protect the puck behind the net and scored on a wrap around after the puck deflected off a defender’s skate in front. This extended his goal streak to three games.
San Diego kept the momentum as nine seconds later, they went on the power play. Although they were not able to find the back of the net, it gave them a chance to establish themselves in the offensive zone and generate chances.
"I just thought that we had three around the puck a lot in the offensive zone and we didn't turn as many pucks over in the neutral zone as we had in prior games," assistant coach Jason Clarke said. "That's something that we discussed as a team and as a staff this morning, and I thought we executed that part of the game pretty well tonight."
The Wranglers regrouped after the penalty kill and began their attack. They scored at the 6:53 mark of the period, capitalizing off a defensive zone turnover by San Diego. Calgary continued to mount pressure, scoring again less than two minutes later. They won a battle below the goal line and fed center Radim Zohorna who pulled the puck to his backhand and slid it five hole to make it 2-1.
This lead would be short lived as the Gulls managed to strike back on the power play. After setting up in the offensive zone, defenseman Nikolas Brouillard got the puck and hammered a slap shot from the point, beating goaltender Dustin Wolf low glove. Brouillard now ranks tied for second amongst AHL defenseman with three power-play goals (PPG). Gulls left wing Justin Kirkland recorded his 100th AHL assist on this goal.
"I mean, to be honest, I didn't know until after the game until one of the guys had told me," Kirkland said. "Yeah, exciting accomplishment against the old team like that is pretty cool. But you know what, at the end of the day, I would have rather had the two points in a win."
The game did not stay tied for long. Calgary found the back of the net two more times before the period ended. Their third goal of the game came courtesy of a deflected shot that bounced to the back door from behind the net. They made the score 4-2 when winger Walker Duehr drove the far post on the power play and slotted the puck in the net after avoiding a poke check.
Momentum continued to be on Calgary’s side in second period. They scored twice in the opening seven minutes to take a four-goal lead. However, Kirkland would answer back. He received a pass in the neutral zone and immediately attacked the Wrangler net. He created separation from the defenseman, pulled the puck to his backhand and scored five-hole making it 6-3.
Neither team could find the back of the net again despite having the man advantage. The Wranglers had a brief 5-on-3 at one point, but the Gulls killed it off. San Diego went on the power play with 5:19 left to play in the period. They created chances but the Calgary defenders stood tall.
Calgary opened the third period with a goal on their opening shift; the Gulls had a large hill to overcome if they were to get back into the game. Defenseman Luka Profaca attempted to energize his team by delivering two big hits in the defensive zone.
This set a tone for the rest of the period as both teams threw their bodies around more frequently. The game reached a boiling point with 2:18 left in the game when defenseman Olli Juolevi took exception to a hit in the neutral zone. Players from both teams converged around the action, leading to a Gulls power play. San Diego did not convert with the man advantage ending the game with a final score of 7-3.
"I think it's more of like a playoff series to be honest," Clarke said. "That's what we kind of talked about this morning, that's we're playing the four games. It’s kind of like a little miniseries so they took game one and you know, we just got to rally the troops here and dust off a little bit here and get back for tomorrow night."