2019-20 Season Preview: A New Chapter for the GullsOct 3, 2019
Is it October yet? Yes, hockey is finally back.
It has been 129 days since the Gulls last took the ice as their Calder Cup run ended in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals.
Fast forward to the present and the 2019-20 San Diego Gulls resemble the team that was one game away from competing for the AHL’s holy grail. Blink and you may have missed a busy offseason for the organization.
It was 108 days ago Dallas Eakins was hired by the Anaheim Ducks on June 17. The only coach in Gulls history is now behind the bench of the team’s NHL affiliate.
Enter Kevin Dineen 28 days later.
July 15 marked the 55-year old Dineen’s hire as the new bench boss. There are similarities between the two coaches, but each are their own when it comes to their playing and coaching career, path to the Gulls and their approach.
“I think you always evolve in everything that you do. You look at yourself as a player who survived on emotion and intensity, there was probably a little talent there,” said Dineen when asked about his coaching style. “Those are probably the areas, when you look back at my career as a player, that kept me in the league for a long time. I think I brought that to the bench early.”
And his team will be intense. With a roster deep at forward with a mix of skill and grit, it very may well embody that of the man behind them who amassed 1,188 career games with Hartford, Philadelphia, Carolina, Ottawa and Columbus over 19 NHL seasons.
The Gulls opening-night roster of 26 has 15 players returning from last season’s Western Conference Finals run. Three join the ranks in their first year of pro, including center Antoine Morand, an Anaheim second-round selection (60th overall) in 2017, and two other Ducks draftees in forward Brent Gates Jr. (third round in 2015) and defenseman Hunter Drew (sixth round in 2017). Also added to the roster are eight new faces to the organization, most notably forward Andrew Poturalski, the MVP of the Calder Cup Playoffs on his way to a championship with Charlotte last season.
There’s an exciting blend of size, grit and a scoring punch from the forwards like Sam Carrick, Corey Tropp, Blake Pietila, Poturalski, Kiefer Sherwood, Chase De Leo and Daniel Sprong. Those skill sets mirrored with the competitive nature of Dineen will be a key cog in the play of the team that saw San Diego rank second in goals-per game (3.51) last season.
Returning in his third full season of action and fourth with the team overall, Carrick will again look to lead by example. Following a career year in 2018-19 that saw him score 32 goals and 61 points, the rugged set new franchise marks in goals and points, while he led the Western Conference in goals.
“I’m excited to be back,” said Carrick. “There’s a few new faces trying to bond a little bit before it all begins and we get going.”
“He’s got a really great track record and is just a super, well-respected guy around the league, in this league and the NHL,” added Carrick on Dineen. “He’s a guy we’re lucky to have coaching us this year and I think I can speak for everyone when I say we’re going to try to learn as much as we can from him. It’s a long season. There’s still a lot to learn and a lot to get used to, but we’re ready for the challenge.”
Carrick has appeared in 392 career AHL games with San Diego, Rockford and Toronto, in addition to his 68 Calder Cup Playoff gams and 25 games of NHL experience with Anaheim and Toronto. And at 27-years old he is in the midst of the height of his career he provides the Gulls with a blend of experience, leadership and the workmanlike attitude his new head coach was known for.
“You can’t have a better setup as a coach,” said Dineen. “On top of that, you’re going to surround your players with quality veterans. That’s easy to say, there’s a lot of talented players out there, guys that have been in the league for a while. But you need your good character players that also understand that part of their role is to help the younger players develop into quality, solid teammates and players.”
“I think if you look at our roster, we have a number of players that fill that role.”
What can fans expect from their team and how will San Diego adopt their new coach? All they need to do is look at his stats from his NHL career: 355 goals, 405 assists and 760 points. Oh, and 2,229 penalty minutes (72 fights).
“I think you can get to a certain level by making sure your team is ready to play, and I’ve always prided myself in considering our team, no matter where or what level I’ve been at, as the most hardworking team in the league.”
“I’ve had a chance to have a little depth of experience to know that there are areas that are important that coaching make a huge difference in the outcome of the game. Just to find that balance and looking forward to getting back to the middle of the bench. I enjoyed my time being an assistant, but I’ve got a great group of players to work with and a fabulous staff, so I’m right where I want to be.”
Where he is in San Diego is a raucous hockey town that has gone under the radar for decades, but Gulls fans have put this city on the map recently after leading the AHL in attendance the past two seasons.
Dineen couldn’t have phrased what 2019-20 will bring for the Gulls:
“It’s a new season, a new team, a new coaching staff, and another shot at the Calder Cup. When the puck drops, that’s when the fun begins.”