Gulls go 1-1 on opening weekend
For San Diegans and the American Hockey League’s San Diego Gulls, the proverbial honeymoon phase has ended. The 2015-16 season was the first in nine years in which the city had a professional hockey team. Now that the honeymoon is over, fans are able to spot the team’s flaws more easily. This is not to say that the Gulls first flight since 2006 was unsuccessful. San Diego finished the season with a 39-23-4-2 record, good for a second place finish in the Pacific Division. They followed that up with an opening round playoff victory over the Texas Stars, before succumbing to the Ontario Reign in the second round.
One thing that has surely carried over from last year to now is the atmosphere inside Valley View Casino Center. While the fans are becoming more knowledgeable and coming to expect more out of the team they support, there is still no shortage of energy.
University of San Diego senior David Rudokas says he was impressed by the fans’ level of enthusiasm. He also conceded that the experience was fueled by the fact that it was the first game of the season and he attended with a rowdy group of friends. The game on Friday, Oct. 15 was the first Gulls game Rudokas had attended.
“No matter what happens really, I think the reputation about hockey fans in Southern California, fair or unfair, will always be that they’re not real or authentic fans just because it’s not considered as a typical hockey region,” Rudokas said. “But I was really into it. There is totally a buzz surrounding the Gulls, and I feel like attendance at games will continue to grow as word spreads about how fun of an experience it is to see them in person.”
For Gulls fans who packed the nest for both games of the team’s opening weekend on Oct. 15 and 16, the Friday edition provided much more of a fun experience. The Gulls cruised past the Tucson Roadrunners on their way to a 5-3 win. Saturday night, the team was shut out by the division rival Ontario Reign. Friday’s win was powered partly by two players who many are still unfamiliar with. Corey Tropp, acquired by the Gulls’ NHL affiliate Anaheim Ducks on Feb. 29, appeared in only 15 games for San Diego last season. He netted the first goal of the season for the Gulls by beating Tucson goaltender Justin Peters just over eight minutes into the game. 23 year-old Kalle Kossila of Kauniainen, Finland put one past Peters too in what was just his seventh game in a Gulls sweater.
Rudokas took notice of the team’s explosive offense, which he says definitely contributed to the raucous environment in the building.
“It certainly helps when the team is scoring so much like that,” Rudokas said. “I can only speak for myself, but I’m not nearly as into the game when it’s a slower pace and super defensive. I feel like it’s just objectively a better viewing experience when there’s a lot of goals being scored like there were [on Friday]. I prefer that much more than a 1-0 or 2-1 game.”
The Gulls were unable to carry that prolific offensive performance into Saturday. The shutout at the hands of Ontario, led by Reign goaltender Jack Campbell, was a stark contrast to Friday’s frenetic goal frenzy. T.J. Hensick and Michael Mersch scored the only two goals of the game.
Of course, one of the beauties of a new season is that there is so much left of it to be played. While being shut out at home by a division foe is never ideal, the Gulls will face Ontario 11 more times before season’s end. This is good news both for the men on the ice, as well as the people in the crowd. For the Gulls, the 11 remaining games with Ontario supply opportunities to learn more about the strategies and tendencies of a team they could potentially see in the playoffs. Plus, it also allows hockey fans of Southern California a chance to be a part of a budding rivalry.
For students looking to join in on the fun of a Gulls game night at Valley View Casino Center, the team’s next home game is on Saturday, Oct. 22 against the Texas Stars. The first matchup of the season with the Stockton Heat, another Pacific Division rival, follows shortly afterward on Wednesday, Oct. 26.
Written by Matthew Roberson, Sports Editor