Chula Vista's Coxe Has Happy Homecoming : Hockey: His overtime goal gives Kansas City Blades a 5-4 victory over Gulls.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Craig Coxe, home for the holidays, wished the Gulls a Happy New Year in rude fashion Friday.

Coxe, a native of Chula Vista, scored two minutes, three seconds into overtime as the first-place Kansas City Blades handed the Gulls a 5-4 defeat in front of a season-high 7,288 fans at the San Diego Sports Arena.

The Gulls were poised to take over second place in the International Hockey League West Division, leading 4-2 with 3:08 to play. Then they gave up two goals, the second with 1:57 left, and collapsed in overtime.

The Gulls' Soren True was called for cross checking--what Gull Coach Don Waddell called a foolish penalty--and Larry DePalma scored. Then 1:11 later, Jeff Madill burned goalie Rick Knickle (13-7) to make it a 4-4 tie.

Coxe, a 6-4, 210-pound defenseman who has been in and out of the NHL, bid the Gulls adieu.

The Gulls (19-14-1, 39 points) had an opportunity to pass the Peoria Rivermen (18-13-3, 39 points) in the IHL West standings. Instead, the overtime loss gave them one point and moved them into a second-place tie while the Blades (30-8-1, 61 points) are running away with the division.

In what was a hard-checking game and a battle of wits, the Gulls looked as if they would be the first team to beat Kansas City, which has the IHL's best record, three times. Entering the third period 2-2, the Gulls quickly got goals from Alan Hepple and Darcy Norton to go up 4-2. It looked like they could get more. Ron Duguay was twice stuffed by Irturs Ibe on point-blank shots.

But strangeness prevailed, as evidenced by defenseman Rick Lessard's bizzare goal in the second period that gave the Blades a 2-1 lead.

Lessard hit a slap shot so hard that it hit the back of the net and came out of the box without goal judge Ed Gomes recognizing it. No whistle, no red light and play continued for 1:02 before Kansas City got the puck back, took it down the ice and began to protest the non-call.

Coxe, a Chula Vista native, pounded on the Plexiglas in front of Gomes, and time was called. A 10-minute deliberation ensued, during which a fan doused Waddell with a beer and the goal was allowed.

How did the Gulls react? They scored 39 seconds later to tie it. Then they looked like as if they were going to put away the game early.

As they have for much of the season, the Gulls spotted their opponent an early lead, as center Ron Handy shoveled one in off Knickle's glove at the 9:51 mark of the first period, five seconds after the Gulls had killed a power play.

The Gulls answered with 5:51 left. As right wing Robbie Nichols momentarily distracted Irbe, who swatted at Nichols with his stick, Dmitri Kvartalnov sent a backhand shot past his skates to make it 1-1.

After Lessard's goal, Hachborn immediately answered with his third score in two games after Kavartalnov controlled a loose puck in the slot and fed him in front of the crease. That tied the score again, 2-2. The Gulls, who killed two power plays to close out the second period, went into the final 20 minutes with some momentum.

However, there were also times where the Gulls looked like they were destined only to tie and not win. They converted only one of five power-play opportunities in the first two periods and blew a two-man advantage in the second period.

Knickle twice avoided disaster, once when he left the box as a loose puck was alertly cleared from in front of the net by Dave Korol, and again when Handy rifled one off the crossbar.

And with 3:08 left, that good luck ran out.

Gulls Notes

Gull Coach Don Waddell is closer to reaching a deal to sign Andrei Kvartalnov, older brother of Gull and IHL goals leader Dmitri Kvartalnov. Andrei Kvartalnov, 28, a left wing, left Russia for Germany earlier this week and is awaiting a decision by Waddell.

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