Gulls Earn Hard-Fought Point In Overtime Loss To Rival ReignJan 8, 2022
By AJ Manderichio/SanDiegoGulls.com
On a night where they played with only 16 skaters, the shorthanded San Diego Gulls gave the Ontario Reign all they could handle in a 5-4 overtime loss at Toyota Arena.
The Gulls earned three of a possible four points against the top two teams in the Pacific Division in their first games of the new year. San Diego returned last night from a 20-day absence, necessitated by the team following the American Hockey League’s enhanced COVID-19 protocols.
"That’s what I wanted," Gulls head coach Joel Bouchard said. "I wanted an effort like that. As a coach, you’ve got to be pleased with the effort from everybody. Everybody was outstanding for two games. It wasn’t an easy situation and as a coach I’ve got to be fair, realize the process of getting back to play after missing so much. The guys fought until the end, we were short on bodies and I’m really proud of the guys tonight. It was a battle. Obviously, you like to win every game, but I cannot just coach the score, I’ve got to coach what’s in front of me and what’s the reality of the game and I thought the guys fought hard."
Brayden Tracey helped his team earn a standings point, posting a second straight multi-point performance (1-1=2). He collected four points over the weekend, finishing tonight leading San Diego in goals (9) and points (9-12=21) while co-leading the team in assists (12). Hunter Drew, Brent Gates Jr. and Nikolas Brouillard also scored for San Diego, who earned points in a second straight game against the Reign (1-0-1-0).
Goaltender Francis Marotte made his Gulls debut – and his first AHL start – stopping 31 shots in the loss.
"It’s a young guy that’s got an exemption from playing in the AHL because of COVID and he’s taking advantage of it," Bouchard said of his goaltender. "I mean, I’m demanding on him also. I want him to be an NHL player for a long time. He’s got a lot of talent and he’s been very good at moments."
Samuel Fagemo played the role of overtime hero, scoring with only 1:27 left in the extra session to give Ontario a second straight win. He finished the night with a season-high tying three points (1-2=3). T.J. Tynan also collected three points (1-2=3) and finished the game tied for seventh among league leaders in scoring.
Quinton Byfield, Jordan Spence, and Jaret Anderson-Dolan added goals for the Reign. Rookie goaltender Lukas Parik, forced into action following an injury to Ontario’s Garret Sparks, made his AHL debut and recorded his first win, stopping six-of-seven shots.
Spence and Gates Jr. traded goals just 15 seconds apart to open the scoring.
Ontario jumped on the board first as Spence collected a power-play goal at 5:32 of the opening frame. With Greg Printz in the box for hooking, a streaking Tynan opened space at the point before dropping the puck to Spence, who blasted a shot past Marotte and into the far side of the net for his first goal of the season.
Gates Jr. evened the score with his first goal of the season.
Nathan Larose gathered an errant clearing attempt at center ice, tapping a puck to Max Golod. He filtered it to Gates Jr., who carried the puck into the offensive zone. He pulled it in tight and wired a wrister past the glove of Sparks for the game-tying tally.
The Grand Rapids, MI native has points in his first two games (1-1=2) with the Gulls. Signed to a standard-player contract on Dec. 31, Gates Jr. led the ECHL's Indy Fuel with 9-19=28 points and eight PIM in 22 games this season.
The two teams would find plenty of offense in the second period.
Brouillard scored a power-play goal just 51 seconds into the middle frame to give San Diego its first lead of the game.
With Byfield serving a cross-checking minor, Bryce Kindopp worked a puck loose in the offensive zone. Tracey collected it, finding Brouillard at the point. His slap shot zipped past Sparks, who pulled up lame after attempting to make the save.
Parik entered immediately following the goal, marking his first appearance in the AHL. The goaltender began the season with the ECHL’s Rapid City Rush, posting a 9-4-3 record with a 2.36 goals-against average (GAA) and a .927 save percentage (SV%).
After collecting just one point - an assist - in December, Brouillard has three points (1-2=3) in his first two games of the new year.
Anderson-Dolan tied the game with a power-play goal at 5:30 of the period, deflecting a Fagemo shot past Marotte for his seventh goal of the season.
The Reign seemed to solve a strong San Diego penalty kill. Entering the night, the Gulls allowed only one man-advantage tally in its last six games but saw Ontario score on two of its first three opportunities.
The unit would respond to the challenge, however, turning aside the Reign on a four-minute high-sticking penalty assessed to Tracey at the 5:48 mark of the period.
Tracey responded to the penalty – and his team’s excellent kill – by restoring San Diego's lead with 7:53 remaining in the frame.
Kodie Curran collected a loose puck at the side boards, carrying it down to the goal line. He threw a wrist shot into the crease, where Jack Badini had the first chance to stuff it in. Parik made the initial stop, but Tracey finished the rebound, tucking it past the Reign netminder.
"Well, since day one, I feel there’s obviously a lot of growth without the puck and more confidence comes with it," Bouchard said of Tracey. "He’s playing harder, he’s more engaged, he’s got the, you know, we work on habits with him a lot. He’s been embracing this, I’ve been demanding on him. I’ve been hard on him, but he’s been embracing this and he’s been doing well."
Marotte made a key save to hold the lead, stopping a 3-on-1 chance from the Reign just over a minute later. Byfield led the charge, finding a trailing Tyler Madden near the blue line. He quickly gave it back to Byfield, and the center moved it across the crease to Gabriel Vilardi. Marotte recognized the pass, quickly pushing across the crease and kicking away Vilardi's attempt to keep the Gulls ahead.
Ontario would tie the game, with Byfield poking a loose puck past Marotte with 1:36 left in the period. The goalie thought he corralled a Madden shot, but as he fell backward, the puck sat loose in the crease. Byfield pounced, sliding the puck over the goal line for his second goal of the season.
Drew would once again respond, striking with only 31 seconds left to send the Gulls into the locker room with a lead.
Brogan Rafferty held the puck along the top of the right circle, patiently waiting as Drew cut toward the middle of the ice. His aerial pass landed perfectly, and Drew one-timed his shot off the post and in for his fifth goal of the season.
It marks the first time this season Drew recorded goals in back-to-back games.
Ontario would respond once again, as Tynan scored the game-tying goal with 6:40 remaining in regulation, collecting a rebound from a point shot and tucking the puck past Marotte for his sixth goal of the season.
The teams traded chances in the extra session, with San Diego coming dangerously close to escaping with the win. A centering feed from Gates Jr. bounced over the stick of Alex Limoges and led to Ontario’s game-winning tally. Tynan and Fagemo raced down the ice, with the pair combining on a one-timed shot that caught the pad of Marotte but found its way into the back of the net.
Despite the setback, Bouchard believes his team used this weekend's results to cement their attitude.
"Obviously, we have a young squad up front and the defensemen were solid again tonight, but we’re working with them," he said. "We brought some good offense this weekend, which I’m very happy we’ve worked on some concepts. The guys bought into it and it’s a combination that’s working without the puck, which I’ve felt we got a lot better since the beginning of the year, but with the puck also. So, it’s just a combination of both. Like I said, missing those 19, 20 days and coming back as a group, with missing some key players - which is normal, it’s life - it’s given a chance to other guys to step up, which is good."