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Cuda Corner: Gambrell scores twice in AHL debut, lifts Barracuda over Reign in season opener

The revamped Barracuda made a great first impression on Friday night.

SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 05: Dylan Gambrell #14 of the San Jose Sharks in action against the Colorado Avalanche at SAP Center on April 5, 2018 in San Jose, California. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

While hockey fans at the SAP Center paid to see the San Jose Barracuda home opener, what they got was an episode of a critically acclaimed new series called “The Dylan Gambrell Show.”

The 22-year-old rookie put up his first two professional goals and an assist in San Jose’s 4-1 victory over the Ontario Reign. He and linemate Francis Perron combined for five points on the night, while ‘Cuda netminder Antoine Bibeau earned his first win of the year with a 30-save performance.

After ending up as one of the Sharks’ final training camp cuts, Gambrell had all the reasons to prove his detractors wrong in his AHL debut, but helping the Barracuda earn their first ‘W’ was reward enough.

“I think that’s kinda normal, but at the same time I’m just trying to enjoy this and be the best I can down here for this team, too,” Gambrell said.

For recent addition Perron, the early chemistry with Gambrell was a nice way to start his San Jose career after spending two seasons in the Ottawa Senators system.

“Dylan had a lot of jump in the first. I think me and Vinny [Praplan] just followed him and it worked out,” Perron said.

The start of a new season always brings some jitters along with it, and for the Barracuda that meant early struggles to sustain pressure in the Reign end. But as the first period moved along the pace picked up, along with the ‘Cuda’s game.

Five minutes into the period a breakout attempt by Reign winger Brad Morrison bounced off Jeremy Roy and right onto the stick of Perron. He made a quick pass to a wide open Gambrell waiting in the slot, who rifled the puck past Ontario goalie Cal Petersen to open the scoring.

Just three minutes later, with Kale Clague in the box for slashing, the Barracuda power play unit made its first appearance of 2018-19 count. A quick cycle led to Gambrell one-timing a shot from above the left circle over the shoulder of Petersen to double the lead. Newcomer Kyle Wood and ‘Cuda captain John McCarthy drew the assists on Gambrell’s second of the night.

By the end of the period San Jose was in full control, doubling Ontario in shots 14-7 and forcing Petersen to play conservatively back in his net and moving across the crease. But it didn’t help him with five minutes left in the first when a Gambrell wraparound attempt popped loose and was tapped into an empty net by Perron, sending the Barracuda to the locker room with a 3-0 lead.

Facing the prospect of being blown out in their first game of the season, the Reign found a whole other level in the second period. Thanks in large part to three straight ‘Cuda penalties, Ontario peppered Bibeau with 18 shots in the middle frame, eventually breaking through at the 6:30 mark when a Clague slapshot was defected in front by Zach Mitchell for his first goal of the season.

While San Jose was struggling to keep the puck in the attacking zone, the team was able to make the most out of their smaller number of chances. Late in the second period Maxim Letunov broke loose from a board battle, found an open lane through the slot and whipped a backhander behind Petersen to restore the three goal lead. Rookie addition Jayden Halbgewachs and returning veteran Nick DeSimone earned their first helpers of the season on Letunov’s tally.

The third period was a back and forth affair as the defense taking center stage, with both teams combining for just nine total shots. The most notable play of the final frame was a late controversial boarding call on Alexander True, at which point Reign enforcer Kurtis MacDermid dropped his gloves and and clobbered the ‘Cuda sophomore. MacDermid earned a five minute major, two for instigating and a game misconduct on the play, while True ended up with a minor boarding call.

Barracuda bench boss Roy Sommer felt the opener showed a mixed bag of good work and areas to improve on, but acknowledged there’ll be plenty of time to fine tune.

“I’m not gonna do cartwheels over the win, but it’s a starting point,” Sommer said.

The Barracuda get right back to work tomorrow when they hit the road to face the Bakersfield Condors at 7 p.m. Pacific.