“The Gulls-A Little Playoff Hate”
You can tell it’s that time of the year, there (NHL), here (AHL).
Playoff time..a little stubble on the beard…a gash on the nose..a black eye..little scrape on the cheek..some blood on the front of the jersey, alot of intensity…and some playoff hate.
The San Diego Gulls, playing before packed houses at the Sports Arena, dominating teams, open their post season playoff series against the Ontario Reign, their nasty rivals up the road.
It the Anaheim Ducks-Junior-vs-the LA Kings-Junior, and we know the parent clubs of both, don’t like each other.
It’s been quite a two year growth spurt with the return of pro hockey to San Diego.
The old Gulls, in the old Western Hockey League, were pretty successful. The World Hockey Association San Diego Mariners flourished for a short time. The rebirth of the Gulls, members of the International Hockey League, then the West Coast, then East Coast Hockey Leagues brought great success, including 5-Walker Cups.
But this has been special. This is skill, sizzling speed, spectacular goaltending. This is no longer ‘Slapshot’.
The Ducks have shipped in lst round picks, hot shot college players, signed quality young free agents, and sprinkled in a Euro or two, plus a couple of AHL grizzled veterans.
And America’s finest city has responded, despite the fact the Union-Tribune has ignored the team, and the TV coverage as been spotty.
Dallas Eakins, the deposed coach of the Edmonton Oilers,has delivered as a leader, teacher, and patient coach. A two year record of (83-43-11), and that’s with 104-players coming thru here in a two year span with all the NHL callups, injuries, trades.
And the Valley View Casino Center has been something special. Loud, boisterous, a Mardi Gras, and a (43-19-6) record infront of the home crowds over two winters when the fans weren’t at the beach.
And the fans, screaming, cheering, drinking, wearing the Orange, have turned out in droves. They averaged (8,675) that first season, (8,876) this season, and now weekend crowds of over 12,000 are jamming the building.
It’s a tribute to GM-Bob Ferguson and to Eakins, and to the Ducks, who already have 4-young players up top, playing nightly in the NHL playoffs, with more to come.
Tonight there will be glares-stares at center ice when they drop the puck. The Kings have done a good job in Ontario putting talent on the ice, and prior to that winning the Calder Cup in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Ontario shows up with 9-players have scored double digit goals, led by Jonny Brodzinski (27G), NHL veteran Teddy Purcell, and fiesty center Mike Amadio. There is bright young defenseman Paul LaDue, who has already been up and back to the Kings. And workhorse goalie Jack Campbell went (31-15-6) with a 2.52-goals against average, not bad in what can be a shooting gallery league.
The Gulls won’t have bright light blueliners Shea Townsend nor Brandon Montour, both with the Ducks, and playing lots. Veteran Anton Langaniere, and fellow forward Corey Tropp are here. Amongst the young guns is Kallie Kosilla, a Finnish product via St. Cloud State.
The defense is anchored by gray-beard Jeff Schultz and some young blueliners.
The goaltenders are cut from NHL cloth, ex Maple Leaf Jhonas Enroth, and former Montreal netminder Dustin Tokarski.
The turnstile infront of the locker-room has been busy. The Gulls currently have 36-players in their room right now, counting the main roster, and a group of just-signed college free agents, some of whom contributed down the stretch.
Gulls hockey, no different tonight than other places, other arenas, other rooms. It’s such a different feeling tonite, that room once you put that sweater and that crest on, and a very different intensity level when they drop the puck tonight.
If you’ve been part of a hockey team, whether its Division III-St Lawrence or NCAA kingpin Minnesota Duluth, whether you are in the AHL or the Memorial Cup, or whether you wear the Maple Leaf or the Red Wing colors, you know what it is like.
If you’re a fan, you feel it in the building. If you’ve never experienced it, you should.
All out…every shift…every night. Doesn’t get any better than this.
Playoff hockey, a different world, beginning tonight. Playoff hate is here. The Gulls are ready for Ontario.