By Alexandra Evans
SAN JOSE, Calif. — The San Jose Barracuda players, their families, staff, crowd members, and press were surrounded by canines as the Barracuda (8-8) took on the San Diego Gulls (7-10) this afternoon at SAP Center. Tonight’s crowd, which consisted of both humans and pooches, was the largest the Cuda has had since the season commenced.
Roster update: Forward Spencer Asuchuk was recalled from the Allen Americans and made his first 2017-18 appearance with the Cuda this afternoon. Asuchuk played with the Cuda in last year’s Calder Cup playoffs run. Marc-Olivier “Marco” Roy made his second appearance with the Cuda along with his first win.
After a 4-1 loss the day after Thanksgiving, the Cuda were determined to make a comeback. Since the start of the season, they have shown strength in doing so, coming back to beat the Ontario Reign, Texas Stars, San Antonio Rampage, Cleveland Monsters, and Manitoba Moose in matches following losses.
Offense and defense were strong on both ends in the first 20 minutes. The Cuda outshot the Gulls 10-5, with John McCarthy scoring the first goal just before the 12-minute mark, courtesy of Marcus Sorensen and Rudolfs Balcers. San Jose held San Diego scoreless for the remainder of the period.
Antoine Bibeau stepped in the net for Troy Grosenick at the start of the second period. San Diego amped up their offense. Despite the fact that San Jose exceeded them in shots on goal, San Diego notched three goals within the first five minutes. Julius Nattinen nailed the first one 51 seconds in, followed by Austin Ortega at 3:47 and then Giovanni Fiore at 4:11. The Cuda prevented the Gulls from scoring additional goals, ending the period on a power play, trailing 3-1.
And then the momentum arose. The Cuda made two comeback goals in under 30 seconds to tie the score 3-3. Rudolfs Balcers notched a power-play goal at 3:57 and Adam Helewka, with his stellar hand-eye coordination, joined in on the action to score his second goal of the season at 4:20. Helewka sniped another one past Gulls goaltender Reto Berra at 10:38, breaking the tie and providing his team and the crowd with some relief. Two minutes later, Olivier Archambault posted an unassisted, game-winning goal. The final score was 5-3.
Bibeau made 14 saves on 17 shots to get the big win, while San Diego netminder Reto Berra had 34 saves on 39 shots.
Both Balcers and Helewka have been known to put up numbers–specifically scoring goals–throughout their careers, but tonight was the first time both of them scored since the season opener.
“I can’t take all the credit,” Helewka, glowing with satisfaction, said of his goals. “[My linemates, Spencer Asuchuk, Jon Martin, and I] had chemistry almost right away. [Instant chemistry] is rare, especially how hard it is to play nowadays, creating offense.”
Balcers proved himself to be a numbers guy last season with the Kamloops Blazers with 40 goals and 37 assists for a total of 67 points. So why did it take 15 games for him to find the back of the net?
“It’s about being patient,” Balcers, who leads the Cuda in assists with 11, contended in a post-game scrum. “I knew goals were going to come, but I didn’t know when… I haven’t had those barriers in my career, where you are right there [beside the net], but the puck doesn’t go in, but you can’t really do anything. Just work hard and be patient.”
One could attribute his goal-scoring hiatus to growing pains, which was discussed amongst Cuda staff and media profusely at the start of the season. Balcers, a rookie, has been improving with each game, and now that he has the monkey off his back, his scoring game should pick up as the season progresses.
Archambault inked a Player Tryout Agreement (PTO) with the Cuda on October 20. He said that he earned his second goal of the season tonight by just sticking and working in tandem with his line-mates, Marc-Olivier Roy and Brandon Bollig.
The Cuda head to Bakersfield for their next match on December 3 to face the Condors, affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers.
Also, Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic made an appearance with his pups tonight, and had the honor of making the first puck drop.