In a tune-up ahead of their Calder Cup Playoff series against the Ontario Reign, the San Diego Gulls welcomed fans back Tuesday night for their final home game of the regular season. In preparation of facing the Pacific Division’s second seed, the Gulls faced a tougher opponent in the Stockton Heat.
The Heat, entering with the Pacific Division title and a 44-15-7 record, was certainly going to be a great challenge for the Gulls. After all, they had won just two of their last 10 games which included a brutal seven-game losing streak that was only broken against the Tucson Roadrunners a few nights ago.
While the game had absolutely no implications on the playoff picture, it’s important to build momentum when heading into a series as a large underdog in just over a week.
Gulls Give Up Early Goal
Just two minutes into the first period, Nathan Larose failed to quickly limit the space of Walker Duehr, who promptly fired the puck over the shoulder of Lukas Dostal. The Southern California club needed to respond against one of the best teams in the American Hockey League (AHL).
As captain Greg Pateryn put it: “that’s a good team. Especially when you get down early against a team like that, like you said, it’s hard to come back and chase that.”
The team was not able to quickly get back in the game. Nick DeSimone notched a 5-on-3 power-play goal with a few minutes remaining. Thankfully Brent Gates Jr. tallied his own before the end of the first frame, but the Gulls never established their own lead or even tied the game.
Pateryn felt that “overall, minus a few breakdowns, I thought we actually held our structure together pretty well and the guys stuck together in the room. And I think that’s a big part. That’s what can take you pretty far.”
San Diego’s Offense Runs Dry
Throughout the game, the Gulls had chances that were on par with that of the Heat. Jacob Perrault and Lucas Elvenes both were able to get behind the opposing team on the rush for scoring chances. In the third period, the Gulls’ forecheck was greatly effective and forced the Heat to take untimely penalties.
Joel Bouchard instructed his players to look for offense. “I asked the guys to play forward, I asked the guys to work on some of the things in our game in preparation for playoffs. We did it” relented the coach.
Unfortunately, the Gulls never scored after the first period. Despite matching the Heat at 26 shots on the night, the scoreboard read 4-1 in terms of goals for the opposing team. However, the result did not phase the head coach going into the postseason.
“Scoreboard is one thing, but what I saw on the ice- I saw guys that kind of worked hard and of course they were affected a little bit. You know, when you have a breakdown and they score— I felt we got right back at it.
“The 4-1 score doesn’t bother me, the intentions were there. We played a good team,” added the coach. Stockton is one of the fiercest teams in the AHL, and would be the eventual matchup for the Gulls should they defeat the Reign in their three-game series that begins on May 4.
Heading to Tucson
Next, the Gulls will play a rematch with the Roadrunners in a back-to-back before the postseason begins. In technically meaningless matchups for both teams, they will hope to build confidence against a weaker opponent.
Pateryn felt, “we really just got to work on playing our game and really use those games as kind of a way to get everything set going into Wednesday next week. I think that’s the focus going into the road trip coming up, so we’ll be looking forward to that.”
Bouchard foresees more teaching moments for the club’s youngsters before they close out the regular season. After the game against the Heat, the coach exclaimed, “[I] can’t wait to show some of the players big plays that we did and some plays that we could be better and will in the playoffs.” He will also be hoping to bring Bo Groulx back from injury before those games.
The three-game series, all scheduled to be in Ontario, will be a massive test for Bouchard’s club. Earlier in April, the Gulls dropped three consecutive games to the Reign. The young core must learn from their recent mistakes in order to improve in the upcoming series.
What did you think of the Gulls’ final home game of the regular season? Let me know in the comments!
Josh is a young writer from the Bay Area, who now studies journalism at San Diego State University. In addition to covering the Sharks and Gulls for THW, Josh is a crossover scout at FCHockey and covers his school’s hockey team at TheDailyAztec. When not obsessing over hockey, Josh loves blasting music with friends, theatre, and playing with his dog. Follow Josh on Twitter for his latest takes on the Sharks, Gulls, and NHL Draft!