“Gulls Hockey…Fork in the Road”
It started with optimism.
It was derailed by the covid pandemic
It ended with utter failure.
It’s a housecleaning we have never seen before.
San Diego Gulls hockey plunged into the abyss, and it cost highly regarded minor league coach Joel Bouchard and his top two assistants their jobs, fired after just 1-year on the job.
The Gulls won just 28-games of the 68-on the AHL schedule, then got taken out two straight in the playoffs.
Something San Diego hockey fans had not seen in a long time, likely not ever.
A franchise that had a composite record of (238-164-37) went off the track.
Could not score goals, could not hold up on defense, could not stay healthy. The role of an AHL franchise is to get prospects ready for the NHL parent club, in this case, the Anaheim Ducks, who were about to begin their own painful rebuild.
The Ducks went off the track too, including their own miserable finish to a season that started so well. In December, Dallas Eakins, the former Gulls head coach, had the Ducks in 1st place, thanks to the blazing start of ex Gull-Troy Terry and star goalie John Gibson.
In the midst of the season, Gulls GM-Bob Murray was forced out, battling alcoholism. The Ducks started to fade in the midst of the front office problems. Then injuries tore into the team, as they careened from 1st to out of the playoffs. They wound up going (8-21-6) from February 1st on.
New GM-Pat Verbeek, was a key assistant in Tampa and Detroit, saw enough. He made 5-trading deadline deals, moving aging big money players, to get draft picks and young talent. His team, his blueprint. He decided to retain Eakins on a 1-year extension.
But the new broom sweeps clean, and it reached to San Diego, where it surprisingly claimed Bouchard and both assistants. GM-Bob Ferguson will return but Rich DiMaio, a longtime St Louis Blues exec, will ovdersee the Gulls.
Bouchard put together great seasons in the Quebec Junior League, then did the same with the Montreal Canadiens AHL team, the Laval Rockets. Had he stayed there, he might have moved up to the Habs job at midseason, when Montreal cleaned house.
He believed in Bob Murray and took the Gulls job, with his eyes possibly on the Ducks job if Eakins was removed in the future. Bouchard replaced veteran coach Kevin Dineen, who put in two good years impacted by the covid mess, then was outsted without explanation. Dineen went to the Utica Comets and put up 42-wins in his first year. He might wind up with another NHL gig, after someone in Anaheim decided he wasn’t the right fit.
Nothing fit at the Sports Arena this winter.
Something was amiss from the start as the Gulls season tanked right from the beginning. A ton of young players, learning on the job. The loss of a couple of veteran anchors, who went up to the Ducks and never came back.
Then the horrors of the Covid outbreak in December, that shut the team down, and impacted at least 20-players and staff, Bouchard included.
And the injuries and the callups, just crushed whatever momentum Bouchard thought he could build. Having had success with young players in Laval, one thought his firebrand leadership would help these young players. Did not happen.
College hockey star Alex Limoges had 23-goals. Defenseman turned right winger Hunter Drew had 17. The rest of the production was spotty and not very trust worthy.
Jacob Perrault, son of former Kings center Yanick Perrault finished with only 14 goals. Brayden Tracey started like a house afire, but finished with 11-goals. The same for Bryce Kindropp, who showed up and played well a year ago at the end of the season, but was erratic this year. Injuries seemed to be an issue too.
Russian Max Golod did nothing, scoring 1-goal. AHL import Alex Volkov played two games and was dispatched back to Russia.
The team lost veteran stars Sam Carrick and Vinnie Lettieri, who earned a promotion, went up to Anaheim and never came back. The same with fast track defenseman Simon Benoit, who also earned a season long callup to the Ducks, embarking on his NHL career.
It was awful off the ice. Fans missed out the tail end of the 20-season because of Covid when the last half of the season and the playoffs were cancelled.
The team spent the entire 21 season in Anaheim, playing before no fans. When the team returned to San Diego, the crowds dipped drastically. Attendance that once was in the 11-12,000 range, was replaced by crowds in the 4-5,000. The franchise that once averaged over 9,000 a game, finished this year down to 6,9926, good for AHL standards, but not San Diego standards, and worse than that, the electricity seemed gone.
The Gulls got little coverage from the Union Tribune, had no radio partner, and their TV games were limited.
It was just a bad combination of things. Now they start all over, with more young players on the way and a new philosophy triggered by the Ducks new GM-Pat Verbeek.
it’s a long road back for the Gulls. Not sure what is more shocking, the lousy season or the demise of Bouchard. San Diego is a good hockey market. The Gulls nuclear winter might be a one time aberration. We won’t know till we see the new leadership what the mix of players might be.
Crap season on the ice-crap ending for the Gulls coaching staff too.
Started with hope, ended up horribly.
The Ducks, it’s their franchise, and they messed up something good in San Diego.