‘Hockey–The Other Winning Team in Town’
by Lee Hacksaw Hamilton.com
They drop the puck on the road tonight. They open their home schedule a week from now at Pechanga Arena.
The other team in town, is ready to launch its season, and get back to winning.
San Diego Gulls hockey has put together a track record of success dating back over 7-years in the American Hockey League at the Sports Arena. If the legendary Hershey Bears set the standard for decades of success in the AHL, the Gulls have sprinted to the front of the pack, on how to run a good minor league team in a bigger city.
The AHL is the pipeline feeder to the NHL. The Pacific Division was formed after the Anaheim Ducks and the LA Kings put their heads together and pushed for AHL expansion, allowing all the teams in the West to have their top farm clubs close by.
No longer having the Ducks have to wait to get players here off the Norfolk Admirals roster. The Kings don’t need to find a way to get a top prospect in from Manchester, New Hampshire.
The Ducks-Gulls relationship has been rock solid. The cornerstone of the Ducks roster, led by goalie John Gibson and hi scoring Troy Terry all started their careers with the Gulls. 10-Ducks wore the Gulls crest.
The same storyline is part of the LA Kings rebuild with their AHL team, the Ontario Reign.
The Gulls launch a new season, with a new coach Roy Sommer, and a nearly new roster, as they play Friday-Saturday on the road against the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Sommer has won 808-career games in the AHL, most of it coaching San Jose Sharks prospects over a 26-year span.
Gone too are two leading scorers, 23-goal man Alex Limoges and Lucas Elevenses. Gone also is top veteran defenseman Trevor Carrick, and 5-other blueliners.
San Diego has to replace 10-players and 84-goals off last year’s roster, which finished with a sub-500 record, the first losing season ever in San Diego.
The parent Ducks, under new GM- Pat Verbeek, changed out coaching staffs, swept out players, and has imported proven leadership with AHL-experience.
The opening night faceoff features new faces in new places, led by the return of Chase DeLeo, who went to the New Jersey Devils a year ago, and scored 21-goals in Utica in the AHL. Justin Kirkland scored 25-goals in Stockton while on a Calgary Flames contract. Veteran AHLer Glen Gadwin had 15-goals there too.
Former Vancouver #1 pick-defenseman Olli Juolevi arrives as does former LA Kings blueliner Austin Strand-who played well in Ontario.
The Ducks are sending back young pros like Bryce Kindropp, Brayden Tracey, Jacob Perrault and Benoit Groulx, all who had moderate success as young players in San Diego.
The key to the season will be the return of hot young goalie Lukas Dostal, just a phone call away from going up to the Ducks, and Ollie Ericksson-Ek..
The Gulls were victimized by the pandemic, having to play games in the Ducks practice facility in 2021, after the 2020 season was curtailed by the outbreak of the pandemic. No home games. No fans. Attendance that had averaged in excess of 9300 a game for nearly two years, plunged into the low 6,000s last year in a losing campaign.
The surprise dismissal of two coaches in two year, first Kevin Dineen, then Joel Bouchard seemed to setback the growth of young players. So a new boom sweeps clean, Verbeek has his players and his new choice as a head coach.
The turnover came after a strong four year run by Dallas Eakins, who is now coaching the Ducks.
Coaching in the ‘A’ can be a nightmare. A Grand Central Station roster, players coming and going all the time. What you had on the ice at practice one day might not be on your roster by opening face-off the next night because of callups.
We see shortly how many of these players can help Anaheim. I think the cross section of veteran AHL players coming in, coupled with some kids who played well last year, gives rise that the Gulls can bounce back quickly.
San Diego is a great melting pot of fans. Walk the concourse at the Arena, and yes you will see tons of Orange-Gulls jerseys. But you will also see fans showing up in Maple Leafs-Montreal-Rangers-Red Wings, and yes Kings-Ducks jerseyes too.
Winning hockey, Beer Friday promotions, and rabid fans will make for an interesting hockey winter in San Diego. Sellouts should follow.
The Padres may own our town right now. The Gulls have the chance to re-plant their flag in the hockey community starting this weekend in the American Hockey League.