Three games into the new season and the San Diego Gulls will be looking to build a little momentum coming off win last Saturday to salvage a split of the two games versus Texas.
The 3-1 loss on Friday night was indicative of some surprisingly strong defending from a Stars squad more known for attacking prowess, but the two goal difference was not representative of just how close the contest was. The score was 2-1 until a late empty netter locked the game up for the visitors, and over the final two periods the Gulls put 22 shots on goal while allowing just 10.
An early surge from the Texas offense in the first period was enough for the Stars to play spoiler on opening night in San Diego thanks in large part to goalie Mike Mckenna. It took until Escondido native Austin Ortega banged in a goal off a defender’s skate with 12 minutes remaining in the game for the Gulls to finally get on the board. Several more prime chances were stopped by Mckenna, and despite being outplayed for much of the game, Texas escaped with the victory.
Saturday night was a continuation of the last two periods on Friday, as the Gulls built on the strong final two periods the night before and dominated throughout to win 5-1. The three stars of the game were Steve Oleksy (1G, 1A), Kalle Kossila (2A), and Mike Liambas (1G). Rookies Alex Dostie and Giovanni Fiore both scored their first goals of the season and Kevin Boyle played his best game of the season, stopping 19 of 20 shots. After a rough first game of the season, Boyle rebounded nicely with 40 saves on 43 shots combined over the two games.
The rookie Fiore, who was sent down from Anaheim prior to Friday’s contest, notched a power play goal in the 3rd period to make the score 5-1. Fiore had a breakout season a year ago in Junior Hockey, scoring 52 goals in 61 games after scoring a combined 51 goals in his previous two season (130 games). He’s had a pretty significant rise from being a solid Junior Hockey goal scorer in 2015/16, to dominant at that level in 16/17, to almost making the NHL squad to start this season.
Now with two wins and one loss, the Gulls look ahead to three games versus the Stockton Heat. San Diego will be bolstered by the return of Nic Kerdiles, who was reassigned from Anaheim on Wednesday. The first two games in this three-game set versus the Heat will be in Stockton this weekend, before the clubs travel down to San Diego for another game next Wednesday. Stockton is 2-2 on the season and is coming off a 5-2 loss against San Jose on Wednesday. Like the Gulls, the Heat have a few premium prospects that could be in the NHL sooner rather than later.
Stockton Heat Names to Watch
Center Mark Jankowski was a strong competitor in Calgary Flames training camp but was sent to Stockton to start the season. The 23-year-old was a first round selection in 2012 and is on the brink of making it to the NHL. Hockey’s Future values his talent as that of a 2nd or 3rd line center at the NHL level, and notes his well-rounded skill set as a big-bodied center that works hard. Jankowski isn’t an elite player that will come up with highlight reel plays as much as he is a hard worker that every coach loves to have. He’s exactly the type of player top Ducks prospect Jacob Larsson needs practice against. Larsson, the technical European defender vs Jankowski, the gritty Canadian center, will be a fantastic matchup when the two are on the ice at the same time. Ducks brass will likely want to see Larsson succeed against tough players like Jankowski prior to calling the Swede up to Anaheim.
Jankowski leads the Heat with 4 goals and is tied with Andrew Mangiapane for the team lead in points with seven. Garnet Hathaway is dialed in right now with three goals on only seven shots. Gulls defenders won’t want to leave him open.
A Stockton defender to look out for is Rasmus Andersson, who ranked 2nd in points as a Stockton defenseman in 2016/17. The Swede, as is common for European defenders, can contribute at both ends of the ice. His scouting report mentions his “off the charts” compete level. Jankowski and Andersson give the Heat two gritty players that will set the tone, and the Gulls will need to match that intensity to come away with points on the road this weekend.