Today marked Day 1 of the 2017 season for the San Diego Gulls with the team hitting the ice this morning at THE RINKS – Poway ICE. The roster includes 16 forwards, eight defenseman, and two goaltenders, including eight Anaheim Ducks draft selections. Twelve players have recently participated in training camp with the Anaheim Ducks prior to the start of camp today.
Back to Work
For coaches and players, returning veterans as well as newcomers, the day brought excitement and optimism.
“It’s an inspiring day for sure. We are ready to get on the journey full of ups and downs,” said Gulls head coach Dallas Eakins. “We started today to prepare to win hockey games and develop hockey players. It was great to see the guys from last year push the pace and set the example of how we do work. It was heartening.”
For many players, today was time to take stock of where they are in their career. Returning forward Jordan Samuels-Thomas comes into camp not as a new face as he was this time last year, but rather a proven veteran who looks to take on a leadership role.
“It’s definitely a blessing, but at the same time I know my work ethic and compete level is what got my here, so that hasn’t been lost, but I definitely appreciate where I am this year compared to last year,” said Samuels-Thomas, who began last season with San Diego on a professional tryout at camp. “I woke up this morning and I still had some nerves for whatever reason. It’s always exciting to come back and be in the team atmosphere, see the guys you haven’t seen over the summer. It’s great to come back and work for our goals.”
One of the major story lines for the Gulls this season will be the infusion of youth into the lineup. Right wing Deven Sideroff, a third-round selection by Anaheim Ducks in 2015, will be looking to use his speed and offensive instincts to ignite the Gulls offensive attack. Sideroff completed his final season for Kamloops in the Western Hockey League where he scored 36-42=78 points with a +26 rating in 67 games. First, however, he must adjust to life in the American Hockey League.
“There’s a lot of older guys, they’re all men, everyone is a mature hockey player,” said Sideroff. “You just got to be crisp and play hard, battle hard in the corners, use my speed, just play the same game.”
Sideroff joined the Gulls following his season with Kamloops, where he collected one assist (0-1=1) with a +1 rating and four PIM in three games with the Gulls.
Possibly the most intriguing story this training camp is the emergence of young winger Austin Ortega. The Escondido, Calif. native starred for the University of Nebraska-Omaha while playing alongside future Pittsburgh Penguin and Stanley Cup champion Jake Guentzel, where he tied the all-time NCAA game-winning goals record with 23 over his four-year career. He recorded five points (4G/1A) for the Gulls last season in just six games while also appearing in two playoff games.
“Austin brings a certain skill-set of being able to score at the college level. I think he got his eyes opened up when he got here last year regarding the pace and the fitness level,” said Eakins, who is excited to see his development not just for the hockey team but also for the hockey community of San Diego. “The great thing was, as soon as he got his eyes opened up he was like ‘OK, I know what I have to do now.’ I thought he had a very good camp in Anaheim. It’s a great story for the kids locally.”
San Diego is a Hockey Town
One of the most common themes amongst both players and coaches is the desire to be in San Diego and compete for a Calder Cup. Eakins was very excited when discussing the support the team receives.
“I’m coming out of two Canadian markets where hockey is everything,” the third year Gulls coach said. “Our fan base here is equally as passionate, even more passionate at the games. It’s a building that is loud. We put six players on the ice, our fans are like our seventh man. We enjoy that advantage with our fans.”
Jordan Samuels-Thomas reiterated a similar sentiment: “It’s awesome. It’s definitely the best city I’ve played hockey in. You go downtown or to a Padres game, you see San Diego Gulls gear everywhere, it makes you want to work harder.”
Being able to play in San Diego was definitely a major factor in the re-signing of offensive-minded winger Spencer Abbott yesterday, who has scored 67-130=197 points in 256 AHL games. “Coming back here was number one on my list, it’s good to be back,” said Abbott after his first day back with the team. “Last year I couldn’t believe the fan support for the Gulls. California is a good place to be, it’s good to be back.”
Training Camp continues this week with three more on-ice practices open to the public and free of charge each day from 10 a.m.-noon at THE RINKS – Poway ICE is located.