Gulls Lose Heartbreaker Against Firebirds

Third Period Heartbreak Dooms Gulls In Loss At Coachella Valley

Feb 3, 2023

By AJ Manderichio/

The San Diego Gulls suffered a heartbreaking loss as the Coachella Valley Firebirds scored late in regulation to grab a 2-1 win tonight at Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert.

"That one hurts, to be honest," Gulls forward Hunter Drew said. "You saw it on the bench when they scored, you see it in the room now, it sucks. Like you said, they're a good team, and to have the year we're having, to be that close and let it slip away stings a little bit."

Carsen Twarynski scored the game-winning goal – his first of the season – with just 1:23 remaining to give Coachella its fifth straight victory on home ice. 

With time winding down, the Firebirds went to work in the offensive zone, collecting possession of a blocked shot behind the crease. Alexander True put the puck in front, where Twarynski put a shot on Lukas Dostal. The Gulls netminder made the initial save but couldn’t control the puck, and Twarynski fought through a stick check to poke home the rebound.

The loss is a tough one for the Gulls, who entered tonight searching to snap a three-game losing skid.

"Well, we battled, I'm not going to lie to you," Gulls head coach Roy Sommer said. "Hard fought; physical, you know, right to the end. You know, 1:30 left, guy is kind of standing all alone and the d(efenseman) is kind of whacking him instead of getting under his stick and puts it in. You know, both goaltenders played well. It was a hard fought, physical game. I thought we deserved better than that. Disappointing, to say the least."

San Diego fought back early in the first period following a Ryker Evans goal at 4:01 of the opening frame. The Coachella defenseman snuck down from the point, taking a Tye Kartye pass and beating Dostal for his fourth goal of the season.

Drew tied the game on the power play, beating Joey Daccord with 9:52 left in the period.

Michael Del Zotto worked a puck from the point down the boards, finding Glenn Gawdin with room to operate. The center tried to feather a pass through the middle of the zone, but the puck found the stick of the Coachella defense. It ended up reaching Drew, who calmly collected the bouncing puck before sending it to the back of the net for his fifth goal of the season.

"I think it was just playing our game," Drew said. "We didn't think about, 'Oh, this is who we're playing, this is who they got.' We just played the way we're supposed to play. Obviously, it's hard when you play that well and lose, but if we played that well all year, I think we'd be in a different situation for sure."

Del Zotto continued his torrid stretch since joining the Gulls. His 4-11=15 points rank fourth among all American Hockey League defensemen since Dec. 19.

Special teams loomed large in the middle period, as a key San Diego kill held the score at one. The Firebirds started the frame with a 5-on-3 penalty for 1:11 but failed to break down the Gulls’ penalty kill. San Diego held them shotless and ended the game 5-for-5 on the penalty kill.

San Diego improved its penalty kill on the road to an 83.3 % success rate, ranking second AHL’s Pacific Division, fifth in the Western Conference and tied for seventh in the league. Overall, the Gulls rank fourth in the Pacific Division, eighth in the Western Conference and 12th in the AHL with an 81.5% kill rate. 

"Everyone was in it, man," Sommer said. "I mean, we overplayed a lot of guys going for the win. You know, two lines played a lot of minutes. Three defensemen played a lot of minutes because (Gulls defenseman Nikolas) Brouillard took a selfish penalty and put us down, and there's a time and a place but we just keep shooting ourselves in the foot with stupidity. And that one hurt, because we only have two lefties to begin with, and you lose one there, and a guy who plays minutes. That just bumps up everyone's minutes. And then not only hurts you tonight, but tomorrow night, that's gonna be a factor there because they played so much."

From there, Dostal – San Diego’s representative at the AHL All-Star Classic this year – put on a show worthy of the honor. His first big save came midway through the second. After the Firebirds picked off his clearing attempt near the end boards, the Gulls goaltender scrambled back to protect a wide-open net. He arrived just in time, turning aside Jesper Froden to keep the game tied.

San Diego’s netminder loomed large once again in the final frame, turning aside a breakaway from former Gull Brogan Rafferty to keep the game even.

Rafferty left the penalty box after serving his minor, finding open ice and a pass from a teammate near the offensive blue line. He broke in alone on Dostal, who came out aggressively to challenge his former teammate. Rafferty’s wrist shot went low glove side, where Dostal managed to get a piece and tip it over the net.

The same two teams square off tomorrow in the final game before the All-Star break. Puck drop is 5 p.m. PT at Acrisure Arena.

"I think we gotta be physical," Drew said about the rematch. "I think teams think just because of where we are in the standings, they're just gonna push us around, and that's not going to happen, and it can't happen. I mean, it did early in the year a lot, and that's kind of what set us back a little bit, I think. When you get a taste of a game like that, how good it feels to be that close, I think we'll come out and be real physical tomorrow and shove it down their throats."

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