PREVIEW: Gulls, Wild Meet On Hockey Is For Everyone NightMar 18, 2023
By AJ Manderichio/SanDiegoGulls.com
The San Diego Gulls host the Iowa Wild in the team’s Hockey Is For Everyone Night presented by California Coast Credit Union at Pechanga Arena San Diego (7 p.m. PT; TV: Fox 5 San Diego; Radio: Gulls Audio Network).
The theme night will celebrate Hockey Is For Everyone™ to help raise awareness for diverse groups in hockey, as well as drive positive social change and foster more inclusive communities within the sport. Throughout the evening, the Gulls will recognize the San Diego Ducks Sled Hockey Team, consisting of disabled and able-bodied athletes ages five and older, including active-duty military and veterans; the San Diego Gulls Special Hockey Team, an athlete-centered hockey program for children and adults with developmental disabilities; and Blake Steinecke of the United States National Blind Hockey Team, an athlete with a visual impairment who competes for the United States of America in international hockey competition.
The San Diego Gulls Foundation will host an online puck sale, with select player-signed Hockey Is For Everyone pucks available at sandiegogulls.com/auction. In addition, the Gulls Foundation will hold a Hockey Is For Everyone Surprise Puck Sale. Surprise Pucks ($20) are available on the concourse at the Gulls Foundation table at Section 10. Pucks are selected at random, with five surprise pucks including an additional gift of either Gulls player-signed memorabilia or Gulls merchandise (limit five pucks per person). Proceeds will benefit the San Diego Ducks Sled Hockey and San Diego Gulls Special Hockey Teams.
On the ice, the teams open a four-game regular-season series. The Gulls earned points in 10 of the 14 previous matchups since the 2016-17 season (8-4-2-0), outscoring the Wild 43-35 in those contests. San Diego is on a two-game points streak against Iowa dating back to the 2021-22 season, earning a 5-3 victory on Apr. 2 after falling 2-1 in overtime on Apr. 1.
"Real good goaltending, well coached," Gulls head coach Roy Sommer said about Iowa. "A team that kind of gets after it. They get on top of pucks, they break out real good, which always causes problems trying to get the offense going."
San Diego enters tonight firing on all cylinders, riding a season-high four-game win streak into the matchup. The Gulls swept a weekend back-to-back series with Henderson, including a come-from-behind 4-2 win over the Silver Knights on Sat., Mar. 11. Justin Kirkland scored the game-winning goal for the Gulls 4:10 into the third period, earning his seventh goal of the season and first since his return to the lineup on Mar. 10. Gage Alexander stopped 35 of 37 shots, posting an impressive .963 save percentage and 1.23 goals-against average over his last four games. Nikolas Brouillard recorded two assists in the effort (0-2=2), maintaining San Diego’s assist and scoring lead with 6-30=36 points. Chase De Leo also earned a pair of assists, posting 7-8=15 points in his last 11 contests.
"I think from the start of the season, that last weekend was probably the first weekend where we had, really, a full lineup with a lot of the guys that have been here the full year," Kirkland said. "I think that helps; it's exciting. Some guys coming back from injury, and the new guys coming in have done a great job fitting in. Like you said, the tempo and the atmosphere around here is very positive. It helps that we're on a little winning streak now, which always lightens the mood. There's a lot of positive energy. Guys are pushing each other, guys are working hard in practice. So that's hopefully that's going to lead to a big weekend."
A key to San Diego’s success is the addition of new players, including a trio who joined the team at the National Hockey League’s trade deadline on Mar. 3. Defenseman Chase Priskie scored his fourth goal in three games at 17:42 of the second period, extending his goal streak to a career-best three games (4-0=4). Fellow blueliner Andrej Sustr started the scoring for the Gulls 3:31 into the first frame, earning his third goal of the season and his first tally in a Gulls sweater. Dylan Sikura, who made his San Diego debut on Mar. 3, recorded his third assist in his last two games on Mar. 11 and is averaging a point per game over his first three contests as a Gull.
"I think it's been huge," Sommer said. "They're all really good guys. They bought in right away and they get along. They've just been real positive in there, and you can tell by the way we're playing and the rest of the team is carrying themselves around here."
Iowa enters the weekend fourth in the Central Division, five points ahead of the fifth-place Rockford IceHogs. They began a four-game California road swing with a loss on Wednesday against the Coachella Valley Firebirds, snapping a five-game win streak. Center Nic Petan leads the team with 17-26=43 points while Adam Beckman paces all Wild skaters with 23 goals. Rookie goaltender Jesper Wallstedt sits among rookie goaltending leaders in wins (15), goals-against average (2.71) and save percentage (.909).
To maintain their success, San Diego is focused on continuing to perfect their own game.
"I don't think we're focusing too much on the other teams, we're worrying about what we can control," Kirkland said. "One of the big things we've been focusing on is our impact on the game away from the puck. (When) you're not involved in the play, it's making sure you're working back hard and being in the right position. And I think you saw that this (past) weekend with the way we were supporting each other. A lot of clean breakouts. It's really transitioned our game into playing a lot more offense. I find we have the puck a lot more. It's a credit to all the guys who have been doing this the past couple of months. Like I said, guys are playing great right now, so it's a lot of fun."