Gulls Love The Back Of The Net Against Roadrunners

Alexander, Grimaldi Have Gulls Fans Feeling The Love On Valentine’s Day

Feb 14, 2023

By AJ Manderichio/

On a night where love is in the air, the San Diego Gulls fans felt plenty of it inside Pechanga Arena San Diego.

Anchored by Gage Alexander’s stellar American Hockey League debut, the Gulls halted the Tucson Roadrunners 5-1 tonight on home ice. The win, the Gulls’ second consecutive on home ice, gives the teams victories in two of their last three games, with both coming against teams currently holding a playoff position.

Alexander, a fifth-round selection (148th overall) in the 2021 NHL Draft, turned aside 29 shots in his first AHL start. The offense backed their first-year goaltender, with Rocco Grimaldi scoring twice and both Drew Helleson and Glenn Gawdin posting 1-1=2 points. Pavol Regenda (ENG) iced the game late in regulation, giving the rookie his milestone moment.

"It was an outstanding performance," Gulls head coach Roy Sommer said following the win. "I mean, his first American League game, you know, allowed one goal and made some great, you know, back-door saves and kept us in the game and gave us an opportunity to win. And that's kind of what you asked for in a goaltender and he filled all those boxes for us tonight."

Alexander, who learned he would start yesterday afternoon after receiving a text from Gulls goaltending coach Jeff Glass, faced plenty of action early. The goaltender stopped 15-of-16 shots in the first period, including a high-quality back-door opportunity early in the frame.

"Yeah, it was definitely nice settling in like that into a game," Alexander said. "I mean, the guys made it easy on me tonight. I mean, they boxed out well. They made me see pucks all night. So, shout out to them."

The Gulls jumped ahead early, with Grimaldi opening the scoring at 3:23 of the first period. Helleson dished the puck to Hunter Drew, who spun at the blue line and floated a wrist shot toward the net. Grimaldi perfectly deflected the pass, sending his attempt past Ivan Prosvetov for his 20th goal of the season. This marks the third time – and the second consecutive season – Grimaldi hit the 20-goal mark in his AHL career. He ended the night leading San Diego in goals and points (21-25=46). 

"You know, nice play," Sommer said. "We win the draw, (Rocco) Grimaldi wins the draw, over to (Drew) Helleson and to Drew and then, you know, he just got the puck to the net with a good tip and you know, kind of went from there. And you know, we had to kind of treaded water there for a little bit I thought in the first period, you know, especially the first 10 minutes. They kind of came at us a little bit but, you know, after that we got our legs under us and you know, played pretty solid."

Tucson answered just under three minutes later on a Vladislav Kolyachonok tally. The defenseman joined the rush late, whipping a one-timed shot from the slot past Alexander for his second goal of the season. Both of the Minsk, Belarus native’s goals this season are against the Gulls and ties a career-high, set last year with the Roadrunners.

Gawdin put the Gulls back on top with under five minutes remaining in the period, scoring San Diego’s second deflected goal of the frame. Dmitry Osipov’s pass from the boards found an open Bryce Kindopp in the middle of the offensive zone. The forward quickly sent the puck toward the net, where Gawdin tipped it past Prosvetov for his 12th goal of the season. It marks Gawdin’s third point (1-2=3) in the last five games.

The Gulls would find breathing room in the middle frame on Helleson’s insurance marker.

Brent Gates Jr. found the defenseman with an area pass, laying the puck across the point as Helleson entered the zone with speed. His shot hit Prosvetov before sliding through the Tucson netminder and into the back of the net with 4:34 remaining in the period.

The two-point effort marks the first multi-point performance of the defenseman’s AHL career.

San Diego made sure to give the night a sweet ending, scoring twice in the final frame to nab the win. Grimaldi collected his 21st goal of the season on a late power play chance, scoring from near the goal line with under four minutes left in regulation. After stopping a Tucson clearing attempt, the Gulls took advantage, with Brayden Tracey finding Grimaldi with the cross-ice pass. He quickly one-timed the puck, beating a sliding Prosvetov to push San Diego’s advantage to three.

Regenda iced the game a minute later, stealing the puck in the corner and sliding it into the open net to collect his 11th goal of the season.

While the offense found its groove, Alexander continued his solid debut. He turned aside all 14 shots he faced over the final two periods to skate away with the win.

"Yeah, I mean the nerves are definitely going," he said of the game. "I mean, whenever you get a chance to show what you got at this level and you gotta show it, and you got to take that opportunity. So, I was a little bit nervous until I got my first save and just kind of dialed it in from there."

San Diego continues its homestand on Saturday when they host the Ontario Reign for the team’s annual Star Wars Night benefitting Rady Children’s Hospital. Puck drop is 7 p.m. PT on Fox 5 San Diego and the Gulls Audio Network.

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