By Sandy Burgin
For The North County Times
SAN DIEGO — Dave Karpa, a 13-year NHL veteran defenseman, made his ECHL debut Saturday night, but it was in a losing effort as the Gulls dropped a 4-1 decision to the Fresno Falcons before 9,810 fans the Sports Arena.
Power-play goals 14 seconds apart in the second period by Sam Ftorek (on a two-man advantage) and Dustin VanBallegooie carried Fresno to the victory as the Falcons (26-17-5) moved two points ahead of the Gulls (25-17-5) in sole possession of fourth place in the West.
Karpa played a strong game, crunching bodies all over the ice. He also set up the Gulls’ lone goal with a perfect feed to Brian Gornick, who beat Fresno netminder Brett Jaeger to tie the game at 1-1 at 4:33 of the second period. It was Gornick’s team-high 18th goal.
Jason Weaver scored a pair of goals for the Falcons, beating Gulls goalie Mathieu Chouinard in the first and third periods.
Still, the presence of the 6- 1 and 200-pound Karpa on the blue line was encouraging for the Gulls as they battle to make the playoffs.
“We’ve been talking to Karpy since October-November,” Gulls coach Martin St. Amour said. “He was always hoping that the NHL was going to start. He’s been skating in Anaheim two or three times a week.
“He’s in good shape, probably not in game-shape yet, but with six defensemen, he’ll play his regular shift and should be fine. We’re excited to have him. Another guy with NHL experience in the locker room can’t hurt.”
Karpa, 33, has played 557 career games in the NHL with the Quebec Nordiques, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers, notching 98 points (18 goals, 80 assists) and 1,374 penalty minutes.
“We were looking for a physical guy to help (Ian) Forbes and (Jonathon) Shockey back there (on defense), playing against the other team’s top line,” St. Amour said. “I think he’s our man.”
While Karpa obviously wishes the NHL was in play this season, he sounded happy to be with the Gulls.
“It is disappointing, it’s just a bad situation,” said Karpa of the NHL lockout. “But what are you going to do; I want to play some hockey. So I am grateful for the opportunity.
“I’m just going to try to bring some steady and consistent play, and first I’m going to try to get back into game shape. It’s going to take a little bit of time, but I’m going try to help and contribute and be one of the guys.”