ANAHEIM - When the San Diego Gulls and Ontario Reign were reignited as part of the American Hockey League's new Pacific Division last year, a natural rivalry was immediately born. After all, the Gulls became the Anaheim Ducks' AHL affiliate while the Reign are the farm team for the LA Kings, generating an extension of a healthy animosity that has existed for a couple decades at the NHL level.
The Gulls-Reign clash was amped up a level last spring when the two teams battled in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs, with the Reign prevailing 4 games to 1 in a contentious series. The conflict will undoubtedly sustain in the franchises' second seasons, and it resumed tonight with a gritty exhibition game in front of an enthusiastic crowd at Honda Center.
Free tickets and free parking were extended to fans for the game, which drew an enthusiastic crowd of 10,214 that saw the Gulls leap out to an early lead on their way to a 4-1 victory.
The Gulls struck first just 92 seconds after the opening draw when Nick Tarnasky punched in a beautiful Kevin Roy feed across the top of the crease.
San Diego made it 2-0 a few minutes later on the power play when a wide open Roy walked in and whipped through a wrist shot from the slot.
Andy Welinski made it a three-goal lead with 5:45 left in the first, throwing a shot on net from just inside the blue line that somehow got underneath goalie Peter Budaj.
Ontario got its only goal less than two minutes into the second when Justin Auger jumped on a loose puck near the right post and tucked it in to make it 3-1.
San Diego regained a three-goal cushion when Stefan Noesen swept in a backhand off a deflected puck, just past the outstretched skate of Budaj.
The night featured plenty of fisticuffs indicative of the hostility between the two teams, including two fights involving rugged defenseman Stu Bickel, who paid the price with a game misconduct.
The Gulls were outshot 32-20 in the game, but they made them count while San Diego goalie Dustin Tokarski shined with 31 saves.
The Gulls' regular season gets underway with their home opener this Friday against the Tucson Roadrunners (Arizona Coyotes affiliate) at Valley View Casino Center.