If absence does make the heart grow fonder, there was some unfinished business the Gulls needed to address before leaving on a nine-game road trip early next week.
All season the Gulls have relied and thrived on the road, where they are 8-4-1, while their growth at home has been somewhat stunted.
But Darren Lowe decided to leave some 6,403 fans with something to remember him by Saturday night at the San Diego Sports Arena, scoring the winning goal with a little over a minute to play, to lift the Gulls to a 3-2 International Hockey League victory over Phoenix.
The victory improved the Gulls’ (15-11-3) home record to 7-7-2.
After a relatively quiet third period, where neither team could figure out who was cat and who was mouse, and it looked as if the second consecutive overtime game was in the making, Lowe pulled his eighth goal of the season out of a hat.
His goal was set up when Derek Mayer shoveled a pass to him from outside the blue line. Although two Phoenix defenders swarmed him, Lowe was able to get his stick on the puck and slide it in from about 15 feet outside the crease.
“There was a guy who was trailing me, and he actually got a piece of the puck, but it slipped through,” Lowe said.
The victory ensured the Gulls hold on second place in the Western division standings, a position they’ve held since Oct. 26, but that’s been challenged lately by third-place Salt Lake, who defeated Peoria 4-2 Saturday.
“We eked it out,” said Gulls’ Coach Mike O’Connell. “We’ll take the win. That’s our goal . . . Christmas is coming, the players tend to drift a little this time of year. That’s why it was such a good win. You have to stay above the water this time of year.”
Brian Lawton scored at 13:20 in the third to pull the Roadrunners (9-17-1) to 2-2 on a goal from outside the left crease.
San Diego welcomed its newest son with open arms when Gord Walker, fresh off the Canadian National Team, scored unassisted after just three minutes on the ice in a Gulls’ game.
Walker arrived in San Diego Thursday night after driving 26 hours from his home in Castlegar, British Columbia, had one day of practice, but was in O’Connell’s starting line.
As he skated in from the right wing and caught goalie Mario Gosselin by surprise, Walker did a little half step and stroked the puck in approximately 20 feet from the slot at 3:15 in the first period for the opening goal.
Although Tuesday’s and Thursday’s starting lines were revamped, Walker skated with Larry Floyd and Clark Donatelli, who were a consistent starting line with the recently departed Brent Sapergia, who sold himself to England Monday.
San Diego may not see snow this winter, but there was certainly a flurry of activity that preceded the Gulls’ second goal. The puck traveled the full length of the rink three times, and both sides threatened to score, but came up empty handed.
Dennis Holland kept his point drive alive--he’s gotten one in 14 of his last 15 games--by starting the Gulls’ second scoring drive of the night.
Holland got the puck to Dave Korol, who waited in the right point before sending a pass down wind, where Darcy Norton swept it up and hammered it in at 19:40.
Marc Saumier scored at 4:05 in the second to pull Phoenix to 2-1.
Gulls’ goalie Scott Brower stopped 28 of 30 shots on goal.