College night: puck yeah
MATTHEW ROBERSON | SPORTS EDITOR | @mroberson22
When the San Diego Gulls announced their relocation to the Valley View Casino Center, college students across the city perked up about the chance to witness live sports at a reasonable price. With the Gulls making a late season surge to put them in the American Hockey League’s (AHL) playoff picture, interest has piqued even more.
Combine that with College Colors night on March 11, which also coincided with $2 Beer Night, and you get a nest full of Gulls fans with dozens of University of San Diego students mixed in. Even Diego Torero, USD’s mustachioed mascot, was in attendance to cheer on the soaring Gulls.
The action on the ice certainly didn’t disappoint the hordes of rowdy students and college graduates proudly wearing the apparel of their alma maters. San Diego outlasted the Bakersfield Condors to capture a crucial 6-5 victory in overtime. This win continued the team’s recent hot streak, which was surprisingly birthed by the departure of their best player.
Since left winger Nick Ritchie was recalled by the Anaheim Ducks just over a month ago, the Gulls have gone 10-1-2 in his absence. They have also won eight of their last 10 games and have not lost in regulation since dropping a game to the Texas Stars on Feb. 17.
At the end of the first period the Gulls and their Pacific Division rivals from Bakersfield had combined to score seven goals. The Condors held a 4-3 lead thanks to some subpar defense by San Diego and leaky goaltending by Anton Khudobin.
It was an opening period that could be best described as hectic, as the barrage of goals was paired with several penalties and physical play.
Junior Caitlin Foote, a native of hockey-crazed Nova Scotia, Canada, attended the game and was thrilled to see so much high-powered offense.
“Clearly it was a very offensive driven game,” Foote said. “The back and forth between the two teams made it very exciting to see that many goals. [I] loved the excitement of the fans every time a goal was scored. It made the atmosphere of the arena more electric!”
The extension of the game into overtime allowed many college students to get their first taste of three-on-three hockey. Just like their big brothers in the National Hockey League, the entire AHL has adopted the new rule which calls for only three players on each team to take the ice during overtime.
This has created a free-flowing style of play in which the skaters have lots of space and breakaways are extremely common. In fact, the game winning goal on Friday night came from center Chris Wagner on a rush produced by an errant Bakersfield shot off the crossbar.
The decisive goal sent Wagner into a jubilant celebration that could only be topped by the thousands of Gulls fans, powered by cheap beer and college spirit, who stayed until the very end.
Head coach Dallas Eakins recognized the craziness of the game, and even he wasn’t immune to the crazy twists and turns that come with a 6-5 hockey game.
“That was like riding a rollercoaster up at Disneyland,” Eakins said. “We haven’t had a game like that in a long time.”
Eakins was right about this unprecedented excitement, as his team had not scored six goals in a game since the 11th game of the season, all the way back on Nov. 11. Interestingly enough, the Gulls have scored six goals in a game three times this season, and each of those three games was against Bakersfield.
Although there are no more college nights on the Gulls’ remaining schedule, there are seven more home games left in the regular season. Any student looking to get their fix of live hockey in preparation for the fast-approaching playoffs should capitalize on these opportunities. Whether students are lifelong fans of the sport like Foote, or a hockey neophyte just dipping their toes in the pool, Gulls games are a great way to escape from the proverbial USD bubble at the top of the hill.
“I certainly hope the Gulls are now on the radar for USD students,” Foote said. “I love that the Gulls did a college night! My high school had hockey, not football. College night gave me an opportunity to go to an affordable game and allowed me to feel very at home.”
Regardless if the team has entered your list of potential nighttime outings in San Diego, the Gulls are still making a ferocious push toward the playoffs. A 2-1 overtime victory over the first place Ontario Reign on Saturday, March 12 offered another gust of wind beneath the Gulls’ wings.
The game winning goal by center Mike Sgarbossa pushed San Diego into second place in the Pacific Division. Finishing in the top three of the division standings guarantees the team a spot in the playoffs, something that would surely help put them on the radar of even more San Diegans and USD students.