Gulls Drop Inaugural Game Against FirebirdsNov 26, 2022
By Brett Pickler/SanDiegoGulls.com
The San Diego Gulls fell 4-1 to the Coachella Valley Firebirds in the first ever matchup between the two franchises.
The Gulls started the game looking to play with the lead. They utilized their speed and puck skills to generate chances and open passing lanes. Their skill with the puck frustrated the Firebirds early, drawing a penalty 6:29 into the period.
From here, San Diego continued to establish themselves in the Coachella Valley zone. The Gulls blocked multiple clearing attempts and ultimately capitalized on the Firebirds’ mistakes. Gulls center Justin Kirkland gathered the puck along the wall and threw it down low to center Danny O’Regan. He quickly got the puck to slot where right winger Hunter Drew showed his silky mitts, settling the puck and firing a shot into the back of the net with three defenders closing in on him.
"I liked the start," head coach Roy Sommer commented after the game. "We scored first. We haven't done that in a while. So that was a positive. So, that was a positive. But we played a really good hockey team and the goaltender kept us in again."
Following the goal, the intensity ratcheted up and the physicality increased. Both teams began to play the body, delivering massive hits in open ice. Gulls left winger Blake McLaughlin took exception to an open ice hit on center Josh Lopina. McLaughlin wrestled with Firebirds winger Eddie Wittchow to the ice, despite the multiple weight class difference.
The increase in intensity played in Coachella Valley’s favor. They managed to tally two goals towards the end of the period. Their first goal resulted from a heavy forecheck by the Firebirds where they converted on a rebound chance in front of the crease. Their second goal came off a shorthanded 2-on-1 rush. The original shot was stopped, but the rebound lay flat for Max McCormick to make it 2-1.
Both teams ended the period skating 4-on-4. The open ice did not stop the growing aggression. When the horn sounded, both teams found themselves squaring off against one another in front of the Gulls entrance; it was clear the game was not going to cool down with the intermission break
San Diego started the second period on the penalty kill, stemming from the altercation at the end of the first. The Gulls took a total of three penalties in this period. Although they managed to kill them, the Gulls did not generate much offense. Instead, they battled through the period relying on the skills of goaltender Lukas Dostal. Through two periods, he stopped 27 out of 29 shots, with many of them being high-danger chances.
The Gulls entered the third period down by one. Knowing the clock was against them, they quickly started an attack against the Firebirds. This resulted in a power play for San Diego 48 seconds into the period. They created multiple chances, with the best one coming from an intercepted pass from the goalie, but they couldn’t find the back of the net.
Things became harder for the Gulls with the period winding down. They conceded a penalty in the offensive zone and were forced back on the kill. San Diego tried to create offense while down a man, but Shane Wright would make the score 3-1 off a wrist shot from the top of the circle.
San Diego took to the power play immediately after surrendering the goal, giving them a chance to cut the lead in half. The Gulls established themselves in the offensive zone and pulled Dostal for the extra attacker. Unfortunately, Coachella Valley blocked a shot and cleared the puck off the boards into the empty net for a final score of 4-1.
"I think the good part is we play again tomorrow," forward Bryce Kindopp said. "You learn the things you did wrong. The things you did good, you take away from this game and you get right back into it tomorrow."
Dostal finished the game having stopped 31 of 34 shots. Over his last nine appearances, he has posted a .939 save percentage (SV%) and a 1.80 goals-against average (GAA).