Monday, February 8, 2016

Milwaukee Admirals 1 at San Diego Gulls 4 (AHL) - February 6, 2016

The San Diego Gulls are the only AHL team in California that is playing in an arena that was not used for hockey last season. But that doesn't mean it hasn't been used for hockey before. The San Diego International Sports Center was opened in 1966 at a cost of $6.4 million ($46.7 million in 2016 terms). In the intervening 50 years, it has hosted three iterations of the Gulls, with the most recent being the ECHL team that departed after the 2006 season. The NBA had two teams play here, and several other minor league franchises once called San Diego home, although only the Gulls and the MASL Sockers are tenants at this time. The venue has also seen a few name changes, with the San Diego Sports Arena in use for nearly 40 years. Now it is known as the Valley View Casino Center after another Indian-operated gambling spot.

The arena is located northwest of the city, near Old Town. The neighbourhood is not that nice, but you'll definitely want to park on the street as it costs $15 to get in the lot here. That's more than most NHL rinks!

Tickets start at $18 for the upper bowl and rise to $45 for lower bowl center ice, plus a $3 facility charge. I recommend the upper bowl, as it is not that popular and you get a good view of the rink. The lower bowl does get crowded as the Gulls draw quite well, averaging 8,700 for second in the league.

The is the view from the top row at center ice, not that bad, though the slope is more gradual. I had a large person sit in front of me and had to move seats as she obstructed my view.

The view from the corner...

... and the end.

The best thing about this arena is the concourse. Over its lifetime, the venue has hosted countless concerts and many of these are commemorated with pictures on the wall that include the set list. There are artists both old and new, as well as a few famous sports figures such as Elvin Hayes. Take time to walk around the entire concourse and imagine how great it would have been to seen these concerts in such a small venue.

Below is a shot from the Doors concert, held on August 22, 1970. It was their fourth last performance before Jim Morrison died the following year.

I am doing the Stadium Journey review for the arena, so I'm not going to comment much more on it. It is old and not in great shape, but it works well for the AHL and is a must-visit for any hockey or music fan.

The Game

Just like the previous night in Ontario, it was Pink in the Rink night and the Gulls had pink accented uniforms.

The visitors were the Milwaukee Admirals, making their only trip to the coast this season. They had defeated Bakersfield the night before and were a solid second in the Central Division, while San Diego was third in the Pacific and coming off a win over Stockton. The two teams had met in Milwaukee back in November with the Admirals winning 3-1. San Diego is coached by former Marlie bench boss Dallas Eakins, who survived that disaster in Edmonton and might be in Anaheim soon if Bruce Boudreau gets the boot.

Milwaukee (Nashville's affiliate) started Juuse Saros (above) who I had seen back in November, while San Diego (Anaheim) put Anton Khudobin (guarding the goal below) who has 99 games of NHL experience, between the pipes.

After a scoreless first period, San Diego exploded early in the second with three goals in 2:35, including a beautiful three-way passing play finished by Kyle MacKinnon (#10 above), a California native who has spent four years in the AHL. Amazingly, they only had five shots all period but three of them found the back of the net.

Milwaukee's Stefan Elliot, a second-round pick in 2009 with 82 games in the NHL and recently traded from Arizona, scored a power play goal midway through the third period to break the Khudobin shutout and make things a bit more interesting. When San Diego took a penalty with three minutes to go, Milwaukee pulled Saros for the 6-on-4 advantage, but Kyle Bonis scored his second of the game into the empty net to make the final 4-1 Gulls.

Milwaukee outshot San Diego in every period, but Khudobin was equal to the task. Not a particularly memorable game, especially after the great college hoops contest that I saw in the afternoon, but glad that I finally got to get inside the San Diego Sports Arena.



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