Gulls Hit Jackpot Against Golden Eagles : Hockey: Their 6-2 victory over Salt Lake helps Gulls remove bitter taste of loss to Kansas City.
Everywhere they looked Sunday, the Gulls found incentives to win their final International Hockey League game of 1991. Pride, money, higher position in the West Division standings.
It was all there, and unlike Friday’s overtime loss in which they blew a two-goal lead against the first-place Kansas City Blades, the Gulls seized the prize against the Salt Lake Golden Eagles.
With their 6-2 victory in front of 4,490 at the San Diego Sports Arena, the Gulls regained some dignity and second place. In addition, each player got a $500 bonus from prospective owner Ron Hahn, who congratulated them outside the locker room.
“The game the other night was in the backs of our minds, the way we lost it,” said Gulls left wing Robbie Nichols, who scored a hat trick. “But maybe it was good. We learned a lot from it. You can’t take bad penalties, you can’t ease up.”
Nichols’ hat trick was the first by a Gull since Larry Floyd did it against Salt Lake in the first period on Oct. 5, 1990, the first game in franchise history. The Gulls, 20-14-1 with 41 points, moved ahead of the Peoria Rivermen, 18-13-4, 40 points, in the West. They didn’t get their 20th victory last season until Jan. 16.
“I’ve been on a lot of good teams, but this could be a championship team,” said Nichols, 27, one of the Gulls’ veterans. “We’ve had great goaltending, a good, young defense. We’ve got an explosive offense and we’ve been getting good checking. This is a good, solid team.”
But most of the credit continues to go to Nichols, Len Hachborn and Dmitri Kvartalnov--the league’s top line. Known as the Hot Line, the three accounted for all six Gulls’ goals Sunday--and six assists.
Hachborn regained the IHL lead in assists, getting three to raise his total to 34. Kvartalnov, who already has the team record for goals in a season, scored two more to boost his league-leading total to 28. He also took over the IHL lead in points with 57. Hachborn is now tied for second with 52.
Nichols, the line’s blue-collar worker, leaped into IHL’s points race with his hat trick and seven points during a three-game stand that saw the Gulls go 5-1-1 in their last seven home games. Nichols now has 14 goals and 34 points, ninth highest in the league.
Gulls goaltender Bruce Hoffort (5-4-0) won for the third consecutive time; it was his fifth victory in six games. On the other end of the ice, the Gulls hounded Jason Muzzatti (10-7-3), the IHL’s fourth-rated goalie with a 2.92 goals-against average. He was 3-0 against the Gulls going in, but he failed to stop five of 21 shots in the first two periods, after which he was benched.
The Gulls led 2-1 after the first period. Nichols started it, striking from inside the left circle after taking a pass from Hachborn 3 minutes 33 seconds into the contest. Kvartalnov, skating casually across the blue line, put a shot through Muzzatti’s legs to make it 2-0.
Nichols got credit for his second goal of the game after Alan Leggett’s slap shot ricocheted off him and went in the net 7:36 into the second period. Then Kvartalnov and Hachborn scored to make it 5-1, and Nichols capped things in the third period by putting a rebound past goalie Warren Sharples, who took over for Muzzatti.
Gulls goalie Rick Knickle blamed himself for the team’s 5-4 defeat at home against Kansas City on Friday. The Gulls blew a 4-2 lead with 3:08 left before losing 2:03 into sudden-death overtime. Knickle said as the game progressed he began to experience flu symptoms. By the third period Knickle said he was dizzy and his entire body was cramping. “I was dead in the water,” he said. “If I was healthy I wouldn’t have given up the last three goals.” Sitting on the bench was Bruce Hoffort, who had won his last two decisions . . . Soren True, who triggered the Kansas City comeback by drawing a cross-checking penalty, was benched for only the second time this season, the first time at home.