PREVIEW: Gulls, Firebirds Conclude Season Series In Afternoon MatchupMar 19, 2023
By AJ Manderichio/SanDiegoGulls.com
The San Diego Gulls and Coachella Valley Firebirds meet today in a matinee affair at Acrisure Arena (3 p.m. PT; TV: AHL TV; RADIO: Gulls Audio Network).
San Diego looks to get back in the win column after seeing its four-game win streak end last night in a 6-2 loss to the Iowa Wild at Pechanga Arena San Diego. Michael Del Zotto started the scoring for the Gulls on the power play at 5:43 of the middle frame. Chase De Leo assisted on the play, earning 0-3=3 helpers in his last two games and 7-9=16 points in his last 12 contests. Brent Gates Jr. scored his first goal of the season, registering 1-1=2 points in his last two games. Dating back to last season, Gates Jr. has 2-1=3 points in his last three contests against the Wild.
"Yeah, it's tough," De Leo said following the loss. "I liked our second period, we had a good push, came out firing and got to find a way to do that for a full 60 minutes. I know it sounds cliché, but we're obviously capable of doing that for 20. So, just got to put three periods together and I think we'll have better chances."
After falling behind 2-0 – and being outshot 13-3 – the Gulls responded with 33 shots over the final two periods last night.
"I think, you know, we got to play like we did in the second period, you know, not wait for them to see what kind of they're gonna do," Gulls head coach Roy Sommer said. "You know, we got to play our game. Coachella is, you know, a team that gets on you and they score quick in that rink, and if you're not ready to play, all (of a) sudden you're down two (or) three goals and they just kind of sit on it. So, we got to make sure we're ready to go when the puck’s dropped tomorrow in that building."
Today marks the eighth and final regular season meeting between the Gulls and the American Hockey League’s newest franchise. San Diego earned its sole win against the club in an overtime 2-1 victory on Feb. 10 (1-6-0-0 all-time record). Pavol Regenda leads the Gulls with three goals (3-0=3) against Coachella Valley this season and is tied with Glenn Gawdin (1-2=3) for the most points against the Firebirds. Cameron Hughes leads active Firebirds against the Gulls with 2-7=9 points following a four-point effort (1-3=4) on Feb. 24. Brogan Rafferty is second on Coachella Valley and first among team defensemen in scoring against the Gulls with 0-8=8 assists, including a multi-assist effort (0-2=2) on Feb. 24.
"Like I said, we had a bad start, but we kind of rebounded in the second period, had a good push," De Leo said when asked about how the team can use last night’s loss in today’s matchup. "Kind of got away from our game in that first period, turning pucks over at the blues. We got to know what works for our team. And I think that we kind of got into our old habits there to start the game. And then in the second, we kind of got back to how we've been playing recently, which is a lot better."
San Diego’s captain is one of several veteran Gulls leading the team’s late-season resurgence. Since making his Gulls debut on Dec. 22, he leads all active San Diego skaters in assists and points (6-19=25), while leading all team blueliners in goals. Fellow defenseman Chase Priskie rides a career-tying four-game point streak (4-1=5) into the game. In fact, the Gulls’ blueline is once again producing plenty of offense, accounting for 14 of the 37 (37.8%) points over the team’s last five games.
Up front, De Leo continues his impressive return from injury. Since his return to the lineup on Feb. 18, the Gulls captain leads San Diego in goals and scoring with 5-9=14 points.
"They're showing up on the scoreboard, on the score sheet at the end of the game, and they're leading by example out there," Sommer said of his veteran players. "You know, they're the hardest working guys in practice and, you know, the other guys are following up and doing what they're doing and putting in the work that they're putting in."
Coachella Valley punched its postseason ticket recently and is battling with the Calgary Wrangles for the top spot in both the Pacific Division and Western Conference. Entering play today, the Firebirds are six points back of Calgary but hold five games in hand. They bring a three-game win streak into tonight’s contest, posting 13 goals in those three victories.