Preview: Gulls Set To Return To San Diego For The First Time In 608 DaysOct 21, 2021
By AJ Manderichio/SanDiegoGulls.com
The San Diego Gulls are finally home.
The team returns to Pechanga Arena San Diego for the first time in 608 days, hosting its home opener against the Stockton Heat at 7 p.m. PT (TV: AHL TV; RADIO: Gulls Audio Network). San Diego is 3-3-0-0 in home openers, winning the first-ever Gulls AHL contest Oct. 10, 2015, vs. Grand Rapids (4-2 win). The Gulls also posted home opener wins on Oct. 14, 2016 vs. Tucson (5-3 win) and Feb. 5, 2021 vs. Bakersfield (4-1).
The Gulls last played in front of their fans on February 22, 2020, a 6-3 win over the San Jose Barracuda and the team’s final home contest before the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the 2019-20 season. San Diego returned in 2020-21, but pandemic restrictions forced the team to play the regular season at Great Park Ice & FivePoint Arena in Irvine, CA home to its National Hockey League affiliate, the Anaheim Ducks.
The players expect a raucous, excited crowd for their return.
“It feels great, just skating out there," Hunter Drew said following the team's first practice at the arena earlier in the week. "Brings back some memories and brings the excitement and the adrenaline up a little bit. We’re all excited and, obviously, I’m excited to get out there.”
Drew is one of just four Gulls who’s experienced the atmosphere of a true home game. He’s given teammates plenty of advice to get the home fans on their side.
“Loud, have fun, play physical,” he said. “The fans are going to love you. Obviously, it’s busy all of the time. I saw (Gulls head) coach Joel (Bouchard) talk about that two-dollar Bud Light (Night). You know, obviously the fans love that so it’s good when they’re out here cheering us on.”
The players aren’t the only ones greeting the fans for the first time. Bouchard and his staff are all first-year Gulls and can’t wait to see how the crowd holds up to the stories they’ve heard.
“The word is around, to be honest,” he said when asked about San Diegans support for the Gulls. “I was up east, obviously, up north (as head coach of the Laval Rocket), but we always knew about San Diego being in a good fanbase of hockey. Hockey has been around here for a long time and I have a friend who played way back in the East Coast League here and obviously, everybody praise about the city. How can you not praise about this city?
“But also the fans and you’re right, it’s a bit of a hockey fanbase that’s really supportive of the team regardless of the league, regardless of the association. It’s just a good hockey crowd and like I said, it’s been a tough year and a half for everybody. I think it’s fun to be back in the building.”
Bouchard hopes to use the crowd’s energy to give his team an early edge.
“Definitely you get energy and being in your building and obviously, like I said, guys are coming in from everywhere,” he said. “They’re all a little shy right now, a little bit, obviously. It’s my job to push them, you know, that shyness away and the fans will help. It gives you engagement, it gives you that little extra pop sometimes that you need. We’re going to turn them loose on Friday, it’s going to be fun.”
The Gulls enter tonight looking to improve off a season-opening 5-2 loss to the rival Ontario Reign. San Diego looked out of sync at times, as teammates searched to develop the chemistry they tried to start during training camp. With a week of additional practices under their belt, the Gulls feel better execution will lead to improved results.
“I think we’ve just got to stick to the same game plan, honestly,” Drew explained. “It’s going to come; we’re learning new systems and guys have been up and down already. It’s pretty early so I think when we get settled a little bit and like I said, the crowd will be cheering us on, it’s a lot of help.”
The Gulls welcomed new faces this week. Anaheim assigned defenseman Greg Pateryn and goaltenders Lukas Dostal and Roman Durny while also recalling Max Golod from the Tulsa Oilers (ECHL) and assigning the forward to San Diego. In addition, the Gulls recalled left wing Greg Printz from Tulsa.
The most recognizable name to fans is Dostal, who burst on the scene last season as one of the best young netminders in the American Hockey League. The 6-1, 192-pound goaltender went 15-9-0 with a 2.87 GAA and .916 SV% in 24 AHL games with San Diego, ranking second among AHL goaltenders in saves (745) and third in wins (15), while leading all rookie goaltenders in minutes (1,424).
Absent from the team are defenseman Simon Benoit and forwards Sam Carrick and Sonny Milano, who Anaheim recalled at various points during the week.
Stockton is also celebrating its own return. COVID-19 restrictions forced the Calgary Flames’ AHL affiliate to relocate to Alberta, Canada last season. They finished last in the Canadian Division, posting a 11-17-2 record in 30 games.
The Heat enter tonight leaning on their young stars, none more important than netminder Dustin Wolf. The Gilroy, CA native went from a seventh-round Flames selection in the 2019 NHL Draft to a top prospect seemingly overnight, propelled by a strong 2019 postseason run with the Western Hockey League’s Everett Silvertips and a sensational 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship. The latter performance saw Wolf post a perfect 1.00 SV% as he teamed with Spencer Knight to help Team USA capture a gold medal.
He backstopped Stockton to a 1-0-1 weekend to open the season, as the Heat took three of four points from the Tucson Roadrunners on home ice. Wolf started both games, stopping 66 of 69 shots for a 1.48 GAA and .957 SV%.
“I thought it went pretty well,” he told the team's website when asked about the back-to-back series. “I wasn’t too satisfied with how (Friday) ended. I wanted to come back (Saturday) and get back in the win column. I think our team was able to grow not only from (Friday) but into (Saturday), score some goals. It was great to get those first two points of the year.”
San Diego and Stockton open an eight-game series tonight. In 2019-20, the Gulls posted a 4-4-1-0 record against the Heat, including 2-2-0-0 at home. San Diego is 19-21-4-3 all-time against Stockton, including 11-9-2-1 at home.
HOME OPENER INFORMATION
Fans are encouraged to arrive early and be in their seats by 6:55 p.m. PT to take part in the pregame festivities, including a pyrotechnics and laser show during player introductions.
Additionally, the first 8,000 fans in attendance will receive Gulls light-up wristbands when they arrive and a rally towel, which is waiting at their seat.
Other highlights of the night include the return of the always popular $2 Bud Light Night, the debut of the team’s new goal song, an interactive photo booth, an appearance by the Anaheim Ducks’ DJ Jojo and more. Fans still looking for tickets can click here to purchase theirs today.
COVID-19 POLICIES AND PROCEDURES
The Gulls and Pechanga Arena San Diego are following all local, state and federal COVID-19 guidelines for indoor events. The arena compiled its VenueShield Safety Information to keep fans updated on the latest rules and regulations. Highlights of the policy include:
Attendees be fully vaccinated (i.e., two weeks or more have passed since the attendee has received a single-dose vaccine or received the second dose in a 2-dose series) or obtain a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to attending the event and that unvaccinated persons wear face coverings when attending indoor events.
All ticketed guests will be asked to have their tickets to the event on their mobile device. To learn more about AXS Mobile ID, please click here.
The arena is fully cash free inside the venue, only accepting debit and credit cards for a safe and speedy check out. Cash is no longer accepted.
Clear tote bags (including handbags/purses) that are clear plastic, vinyl or PVC and do not exceed 12" x 6" x 12" will be admitted inside after inspection. Small clutch bags or wallets that do not exceed 4.5" x 6.5", with or without a handle or strap, may be carried into the arena with one of the clear bag options.
On-site COVID-19 testing is available for those requiring one before entry, with no prior appointment necessary. Testing will open at 4 p.m. tonight and is located at the North side of the building, to the right of the Box Office.
Fans can be tested with no out-of-pocket cost to them and regardless of whether they have insurance. Please wear a mask inside the testing area.
Please review these policies before you arrive for the game. Preparing ahead of time helps with traffic flow and ensures every one can enjoy the Home Opener.