SAN DIEGO — It was a night of firsts for the Tucson Roadrunners.
The club played its first game in the American Hockey League’s Pacific Division against a soon-to-be rival, Craig Cunningham scored the first two goals in franchise history and Stefan Fournier even engaged in the season’s first fisticuffs.
Next: getting that first win.
The Roadrunners had their moments but were outmuscled and outplayed at crucial times in losing 5-3 to a San Diego squad, which made the second-round of the playoffs last spring and figures to compete for the Calder Cup this season.
Tucson Coach Mark Lamb will focus on defense before the Roadrunners take the ice again Friday , Oct. 21, at Stockton. Tucson’s first home game is Oct. 28.
The Roadrunners were outshot 43-32, gave up two power play goals — and a third that came moments at the end of another power play — and too often gave the Gulls ample time on the puck and too much space to work with in front of goalie Justin Peters (38 saves).
All three of Tucson’s goals came on the power play where they finished three-for-six.
“I liked our power play and I didn’t like our penalty kill,” said Lamb. “We definitely were a little light back there at times and on the penalty kill, we have got to clear the puck. You can’t give a team like that extra opportunities to cycle around with the puck. That’s something we will work this week.”
Peters made a save to stop a breakaway by San Diego’s Tyler Morley early in the first period and the Roadrunners killed a pair of penalties but the Gulls cashed in at the 8:07 mark when Corey Tropp set up in front of the Tucson net, received a pass from Morley and slipped a shot past Peters.
The Gulls scored again early in the second when Shea Theodore made a cross-ice pass to Michael Sgarbossa, who weaved around Roadrunners defenseman Dakota Mermis and beat Peters on his glove side.
Cunningham cut the San Diego lead to 2-1 when he scored from directly in front of the Gulls net with just over two minutes into the second period and in the third, he scored again to cut the San Diego lead to 4-2.
Tucson later cashed in on a power play when Kyle Wood’s snapshot from the top of the slot beat goalie Dustin Tokarski.
Just as the home crowd started making nervous rumblings and the energized Roadrunners bench could feel a comeback, the Gulls answered with a pair of goals from Antoine Laganiere.