PREVIEW: Gulls Close Road Trip With First Visit To Acrisure ArenaJan 22, 2023
By AJ Manderichio/SanDiegoGulls.com
The San Diego Gulls conclude a four-game California road trip today, heading to the new Acrisure Arena to face the Coachella Valley Firebirds (3 p.m. PT; TV: AHL TV; RADIO: Gulls Audio Network).
Coachella Valley – the American Hockey League’s newest franchise – officially opened their home arena with a 4-3 win over the Tucson Roadrunners on Sunday, Dec. 18. The first game set the tone, as the Firebirds entered Saturday 8-1-0-1 in their desert dwelling, outscoring opponents 37-25 and earning points in their last nine consecutive home games.
San Diego enters today’s matinee meeting searching for their first win over their newest division foe. Coachella took the first two meetings – both in San Diego – by a combined score of 12-2. The matchup features several familiar faces for both sides. Hunter Drew (1-0=1) is tied with Nikolas Brouillard (0-1=1) and Drew Helleson (0-1=1) for the most points earned against Coachella Valley (among active Gulls). Jesper Froden leads the Firebirds in point production against San Diego with 4-0=4 goals through two games this season, including his first AHL career hat trick on Dec. 16. Ryker Evans (0-3=3) and former Gull Brogan Rafferty (0-3=3) each posted three assists on Dec. 16, tying Alexander True (0-3=3) and Max McCormick (2-1=3) for the second-most points earned against the Gulls.
Familiar faces highlight the matchup between the two teams. Gulls forward David Cotton played in two games with the Firebirds prior to his trade to the Gulls on Dec. 8. The center recorded 3-3=6 points in 17 games with San Diego, including his first career Teddy Bear Toss goal on Dec. 17 against the Tucson Roadrunners. As mentioned before, Coachella Valley’s Rafferty was once a Gull, posting 4-20=24 points in 65 games with San Diego in 2021-22. The defenseman ranks first among Firebird blueliners in goals (5) and points (23), while ranking second in assists (18) this season. Andrew Poturalski also donned a Gulls sweater, registering 11-39=50 points in 61 games with San Diego from 2019-21. In addition, the center earned the John B. Sollenberger Trophy in 2020-21 as the AHL’s leading scorer with 9-34=43 points. Currently, Poturalski also leads Coachella Valley in assists (29) and points (10-29=39).
The Gulls enter today searching to end a four-game losing skid. The team suffered consecutive defeats in a weekend series to the Ontario Reign before falling to both the Bakersfield Condors and San Jose Barracuda earlier this week. The San Jose loss on Friday particularly stung, as the team felt it played better than the 6-0 score would indicate.
"It was just a weird game, to be honest with you, for us," Gulls assistant coach Jason Clarke said following the loss. "I mean, we competed and won a lot of one-on-one puck battles and just had a lot of compete tonight, a lot of fight in our game. It just got away from us in the third. I mean, had a lot of [offensive] zone time the first and second period, but just couldn't seem to find the back of the net. In this league, you’ve got to compete for 60 minutes and that just didn't happen tonight."
Former Gull Kyle Criscuolo led the way with two goals – his first as a Barracuda – while C.J. Suess and Max Veronneau each collected two assists. San Jose netminder Eetu Makiniemi picked up the shutout win, turning aside all 20 San Diego shots.
"The score wasn't really - in the first two periods - wasn't really indicative of the play of our team," Clarke said. "We were down 3-0, but we had a lot of really good opportunities to score and we just couldn't find the back the net tonight. I mean, you've got to be able to put a full 60 minutes in tonight we didn't have a very good third period."