Dec. 27, 2017

By Josh Cooper – Gulls correspondent

Recently the Gulls’ youngsters ceded control of the team’s locker room music list to the older players and once the graybeards took over, the hip-hop and rap stopped being played and classic rock became the norm.

The change in music coincided with a few wins and created a lasting lesson for the youths to always listen to their teammate elders – at least when it comes to tunes.

“We forced them to play some old school rock before one of our last games and we won and we’ve been playing it since, so I’ll maybe attribute that to our success the last little while,” joked 32-year-old forward Eric Fehr.

Musical knowledge is one of the many teachings the older Gulls have given to the younger players, along with how to play winning hockey and be successful pros. In recent weeks the youthful Gulls have followed the veterans’ lead to the tune of seven wins in eight games.

Currently, the Gulls lead the Pacific Division in rookie games played and overall have dressed nine rookies (eight skaters) this season that have a combined 76 points. Their 25 goals are more than 30 percent of San Diego’s total.

“This group here is definitely willing to learn,” Fehr said. “That’s one thing I’ve learned in the last month I’ve been here is these guys want to get better and they want to make the next step and you can definitely feel that they’re paying attention so when you’re going about your business in the room you want to make sure you’re doing the right thing and saying the right things because they are watching and taking it in.”

San Diego’s resurgence can be traced to the addition of Fehr, who has played in 566 NHL games, and 29-year-old forward Ryan White, who has played 313 NHL contests before the team’s Nov. 17 game against the Tucson Road Runners. In that contests Fehr, who was assigned to the Gulls from the Toronto Maple Leafs, had two goals in an 8-3 win.

The next day, the Gulls finished off the weekend sweep in a 3-2 shootout win. Since Fehr and White arrived, the Gulls are 9-4-0. Fehr has 11 points in 13 games including seven goals. White, who is on a professional tryout, has six points in eight games.

“The veteran guys are smart. They’re great deliverymen of the message of our team. What we’ve been harping and pounding home part of our culture over the last two plus seasons is ‘never being out of the fight.’ We use those words all the time and that includes when you’re winning too. Sometimes you want to let your foot off the pedal and you’re not really in the fight, or when you’re behind, some teams fold up and let it go,” coach Dallas Eakins said. “But especially over the last week or two we’ve had to come from behind a few times and it’s our veteran guys who are leading the way and leading by example and showing our younger players that we never are going to be out of the fight and our younger guys have really, really responded.”

Fehr and White aren’t the only veterans who have made an impact. Defenseman Steven Oleksy is 31 years old and has scored an AHL career-high five goals. Fellow blue liner Jeff Schultz is 31 and has played steady hockey with four points in 19 games. He was recently selected to play for Canada in the Spengler Cup, a renowned international tournament in Switzerland, this month.

“I was surrounded by good leaders early on in my career and they established good habits early on in my career,” Oleksy said. “That’s what I learned from those guys.”

The ultimate goal is for the younger players to soak in everything the veterans are saying and eventually take over leadership roles some day within the Ducks/Gulls organizations. Fortunately at the moment they have willing teachers giving them the right lessons to move forward with that task.

“Every step of the way throughout your career when you’re younger it’s a different role and then when you’re a little bit more established you’re in a different role and then as you get to my age and older, it changes as well,” Oleksy said. “One of the big things for me over the course of the last couple of years is kind of trying to pass on everything I’ve learned through my experiences and what people have shared with me and taught me along the way and that’s something I try to focus on each and every day on and off the ice.”