“Gulls Hockey-Hoping to Play”
You spend alot of years in the minor leagues in hockey, you see lots of things.
Bench clearing brawls.
Roster shortages by callups.
Winter weather impacting travel.
Canceled airline flights.
Snowbound bus trips.
Hockey teams playing in bubbles-living in hotels.
But you have never seen a season like they are seeing now.
They, being the San Diego Gulls..
One of the AHL’s flagship franchises has had 6-games canceled now by Covid problems, their own, some involving other AHL teams.
And now the revelation that the Gulls were hit by possibly the worst outbreak in the entire American Hockey League.
An AHL source confirmed that since Christmas Eve, 20-Gulls players and staff members have gone into isolation with positive tests. Placed in protocols and isolation,most with what appears to be the Omicron virus.
This despite the fact all 100% of players and staff were fully vaccinated. None were seriously ill. Most showed no symptoms at all but had to be removed.
It got so bad, the Gulls shut their facility down for 5-straight days after Christmas, and have returned to workouts with a very limited number of players to skate.
All this from a franchise that went nearly a year and a half without a positive test, after spending all of last year in joint practices with the Anaheim Ducks.
GM Bob Ferguson told me “practicing with the Ducks last year kept us in our own bubble up there. We were tested everyday as were the Ducks. We never had an issue. It was the best thing that could have happened.”
It was a weird year, playing no home games, in an empty practice facility in what felt like glorified scrimmages, though it counted in the standings.
The AHL wound up canceling the Calder Cup playoffs. Last year was an awful year, even worse for three teams, that did not play a single game in the league, shutting down for the season. The Gulls got all their games in. Some teams wound up playing just 24-games.
Alot of teams in the Northeast have had bunches of games postponed this year.. The AHL,in scramble mode, canceled the All Star festivities and has tacked on an additional week to the season, hoping to make up all the postponed games.
The Gulls have been told to expect to play a full 68-game season when they are done, but only if the variant outbreak gets suppressed.
Ferguson, who would only say he has not tested positive, said “everything is like a moving target with your roster. You take inventory each morning and hope you have enough to practice”.
Gulls first year coach Joel Bouchard has his hands full. His roster keeps turning over because of callups. Then it is decimated by positive tests. Some days he had a near full roster to practice. Some days only 8 were healthy enough to get on the ice.
The Gulls are concerned about bringing players in from the outside,not wanting to risk bringing in a player from the outside who might test positive. They have added two players from the ECHL, whom they had earlier in the year.
And to complicate it, the NHL has now allowed each NHL team to bring up 6-minor leaguers to use as ‘taxi squad’ players as insurance if there is an outbreak at the NHL level. And there have been. Three Ducks, including captain Ryan Getzlaf are out.
The Ducks, under Dallas Eakins have been in and out of 1st place in the NHL Pacific Division, thanks to quality play from as many as 6-to-8 Gulls players who have been called up. Don’t adjust your TV set. Nothing wrong with your eyesight. Yes the Ducks have been in first place this season.
Ex Gull-Troy Terry has 21-goals in Anaheim right now, and last year’s Ducks leading scorer Maxime Comtois, who had 16-goals as a rookie, is back after having broken a wrist.
Complicating all this was the ouster of GM-Bob Murray, removed by the Ducks so he could enter an Alcohol rehab center. Murray was the foundation of the return of hockey to San Diego, and the Gulls owe their success to the wide variety of young players he drafted and signed.
You look at the AHL standings, and you are stunned to see the Gulls in last place with 9-wins in 22-games. Stunned too to see the second worst scoring team in the league, just 55-goals.
Bouchard would be up in arms, but he knows he can’t control Covid and Ducks callups, and he has had to deal with both.
Ferguson has his hands full too, wondering how to get players if the outbreaks get worse. And wondering how do you schedule all these canceled games in your arenas when those arenas may have other dates already booked?
A season like no other for the Gulls, the AHL, and the NHL, which has now canceled 115-games. They will likely make up a bunch of those egames in what was supposed to be the Olympic window, now that NHL players have been pulled out of the Beijing games.
Some hockey season. it’s only half over, but it seems like an eternity for the San Diego Gulls.
Covid has become the enemy, replacing the Ontario Reign, Stockton Heat and other teams in the AHL. A season we have neve seen before.