Gulls Fall To Heat In 2021 Home OpenerOct 22, 2021
By AJ Manderichio/SanDiegoGulls.com
The San Diego Gulls fell to the Stockton Heat 6-2 tonight at Pechanga Arena San Diego.
Rookie forward Jakob Pelletier powered the Stockton attack, recording a career-high three points (1-2=3) as the Heat secured points in their first three games of the season. Matthew Phillips (1-1=2) and Adam Ruzicka (1-1=2) also posted multi-point effort in the win.
Starting in his first game for Stockton, Adam Werner stopped 20 shots in the win.
"Right now, there’s a lot of guys coming from everywhere," head coach Joel Bouchard said following the loss. "There’s not really a big team chemistry, we’ve only been together. I don’t see an identity and it’s my job to make sure we have one and we work on it, but we get shortened time here. We need to play a few more games, see how we go.
"Some effort there time to time. I think Dostal was actually fighting really hard in the net. It’s too bad for him, but let’s call a spade a spade, he wasn’t very good. We had a tough time - we struggled on structure, we struggled on a lot of things. Let’s see how we react in a few weeks."
Alex Limoges and Brogan Rafferty scored for the Gulls – both on the power play - who open the 2021-22 season with back-to-back losses.
The Gulls returned to Pechanga Arena San Diego after a 608-day absence. The team last played at their home arena on February 22, 2020 before seeing the season shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic. They returned for the 2020-21 season, playing their home games at Great Park Ice & FivePoint Arena in Irvine, CA.
The city welcomed the Gulls back to their proverbial nest in style, with a sold-out crowd decked out in flashing orange light-up wristbands greeting the Gulls as they took the ice before the puck dropped. It continued as the game started, with those in attendance waiving their blue rally towels to cheer on the team.
“I tried to go into it with no expectations," Limoges said. "I heard there was going to be a pretty good crowd tonight and $2 Bud Light Night. I’ve heard rumors and they surpassed all of them so it was a lot of fun standing out here, waiting to go out for opening puck drop.”
Stockton came out determined to silence the crowd, controlling play from the drop of the puck. The team held San Diego shotless and countered with its own pressure, eventually scoring the game’s first goal on a Justin Kirkland shot with 9:37 left in the opening period.
Luke Philp put a put the puck toward the net, where it bounced off teammate Byron Froese and out to Kirkland. He collected the puck and whipped it toward the net in one motion, beating Dostal for his second goal of the season.
“It’s not always going to go our way and we’ve just got to keep sticking with our systems and that’s really, when we get a little in over our heads out there, we try to make plays that aren’t us so once we get down, we’ve just got to stick with our roots and keep playing our hockey,” Limoges explained.
The second year forward stuck to the system later in the period, tying the game at one with a power-play goal with 6:19 left in the period.
With Stockton's Glenn Gawdin serving a minor penalty for cross-checking, San Diego generated sustained pressure in the Heat's end. Jacob Perreault took advantage, pouncing on a loose puck and sending it cross-ice to a wide-open Limoges, who powered his slap shot through the pads of Adam Werner for the game-tying tally.
The goal seemed to spell destiny, as the time remaining matched the city’s zip code – 619.
The Heat would burn that narrative, jumping ahead for good in the middle frame.
Matthew Phillips put Stockton ahead, 2-1, at 4:20 of the middle frame. Jakob Pelletier made a heads-up play in San Diego's zone, picking off a pass behind the net and feeding it to Adam Ruzicka near the post. He found a wide-open Phillips with a quick pass across the crease, and the right wing put it past Lukas Dostal for his first goal of the season.
Pelletier gave the Heat a two-goal advantage with just 1:08 remaining in the period, chipping a puck past Dostal for a power-play goal. It marked the rookie's second point of the game and second goal of the season.
Phillips also picked up an assist to notch a multi-point effort (1-1=2). Former Gull Andy Welinski also earned an assist on the man-advantage tally.
Stockton wasted no time extending its lead in the final frame, scoring just 1:11 into the third to push its advantage to three.
Ruzicka scored his first goal of the season, blasting home a shot from the point that worked its way through traffic and past Dostal. It extended the Slovakian’s point streak to three games (1-3=4).
Brogan Rafferty momentarily stopped the Heat, scoring his first goal of the season at 2:14 of the period to bring San Diego within two.
With the Gulls on the power play, the defenseman collected a puck from Buddy Robinson and held it along the blue line. He waited for a shooting lane to open and found his chance, sending a shot past Adam Werner for the man-advantage score.
Alexander Volkov and Robinson both collected their first points and assists as Gulls on the goal.
“Yeah, I think it’s probably the area we’re most comfortable,” Bouchard said about the team’s power play. “Yeah, it’s one area, but the power play is not out of trouble. If it does, it’s once in a while, but you’re right if you look at the Brightside. When I look at the big picture, we’ve got a lot of work to do, my friends.”
Stockton would respond, scoring twice in under a minute to push their lead to four.
Walker Duehr snuffed out San Diego's momentum, scoring his second goal of the season at 4:24 of the period to restore Stockton's three-goal cushion. The rookie took a bouncing puck at his blue line and skated past Kodie Curran, finishing to the stick side of Dostal.
Philp scored Stockton's sixth goal at 5:13 of the final period, deflecting a shot past Dostal for his first goal of the season.
Dostal, who made his season debut tonight, stopped 29 shots in the loss.
San Diego will look to collect its first win of the season tomorrow against the rival Ontario Reign at 6 p.m. PT.
"They’ve just got to get their fluid, get food and sleep because it’s not going to get easier tomorrow and we’re not in game fit shape," Bouchard explained. "We’re not in sync; we’re independent contractors now and it’s our job to try to find something to glue those guys together."