A Look Back: Kevin Dineen's Return
One year ago today, the former Portland Pirates coach returned to the Anaheim organization to once again lead its top affiliate and develop the next wave of Ducks.Jul 15, 2020
By Joe Spurrier/SanDiegoGulls.com
As the San Diego Gulls returned to Pechanga Arena San Diego - and brought hockey back to the area - the team saw consistent leadership from its inaugural head coach, Dallas Eakins.
The former Edmonton Oilers bench boss led the team through its introduction into the American Hockey League in 2015 and into the club’s first ever Western Conference Finals appearance in 2019. His success provided the opportunity to earn a well-deserved promotion, as he was named head coach of the Anaheim Ducks shortly after the conclusion of the 2019 season.
His move Interstate 5 left a vacancy in San Diego.
Enter Kevin Dineen, who spent 19 seasons playing in the NHL and followed with with a 14-year coaching career. Exactly one year ago today, the Anaheim Ducks hired Dineen as the head coach of the San Diego Gulls to continue the organization’s goal of developing the future of the Ducks in a winning environment.
The announcement became official in a press conference held in the Gulls home rink, Pechanga Arena San Diego.
“Kevin brings more than 30 years of valuable experience as a player and coach in professional hockey,” said Ducks Executive Vice President/General Manager Bob Murray at the time of the hire. “We are committed to continue a winning tradition in San Diego, and Kevin will help the organization achieve those goals.”
During his introductory press conference, the new bench boss beamed on a stage in front of TV cameras, photographers and his hockey operations staff in attendance.
“I’m thrilled to return to the Anaheim Ducks organization and join one of the flagship franchises in the American Hockey League,” said Dineen while on stage with Gulls General Manager Bob Ferguson. “Player development has always been a priority in the organization, and it was with great satisfaction to see so many AHL players go on to win the Stanley Cup in 2007. I look forward to continue a culture of developing NHL players here in San Diego.”
The move marked Dineen’s second stint as the head coach of Anaheim’s primary development affiliate in the AHL. Dineen officially retired as a player with the Columbus Blue Jackets on November 5, 2002, but after 19 years in the NHL, he wasn’t ready to leave the hockey world behind. After two seasons working in the Columbus hockey operations department, the Quebec native was named the head coach of the Portland Pirates, Anaheim’s then AHL affiliate.
In his tenure with Portland, Dineen spent his first three seasons coaching Anaheim’s prospects that quickly became household name for the Ducks franchise. Players such as Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Chris Kunitz, Dustin Penner, Shawn Thornton and Kent Huskins spent time with Dineen in Portland before going on to win a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007.
“One of the things that we believe in as an organization is the development of players,” added Gulls General Manager Bob Ferguson during the press conference. “One of the things we believe in is when we’re developing players, we not only want to develop them to play in the NHL, we want to develop them to win in the NHL. A lot of teams just say, ‘we’ll work hard on getting them to the NHL,’ but we want our players to learn how to win in the NHL. We feel that with the hiring of Kevin, that’s what we have.”
The commitment to winning is evident, as San Diego sits among the premiere teams in the league. As one of the most successful teams in the league since the inception of the Pacific Division in 2015-16, Dineen had big shoes to fill. Although the Gulls season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Gulls second head coach in club history fully met expectations.
In his first season behind the bench, Dineen guided the team to a 30-19-6-2 mark, improving the team’s all-time record to 184-114-21-10. The Gulls continue to lead the Pacific Division in all-time wins, points (399) and points percentage (.606) since their debut in 2015. In addition, San Diego became the only Pacific Division club to finish among the top four teams in all five AHL seasons.
However, Dineen’s successful first year behind the bench in San Diego didn’t start the way he expected. The Gulls began the season without a win in their first six games. With a new head coach, different players from offseason acquisitions and departures, and many changes coming with those adjustments, it can take time to build the chemistry that brings success.
“Well, for one, it was a tough start,” said Dineen on his first season. “You go 0-6 and it’s like, ‘Yikes, what did I get myself into?’ Really, I take a lot of responsibility for the way our team started. I don’t think our personnel was in the best of spots as far as our line combinations and that kind of thing. As the season wore on, I think we really found a formula that was working for our team.”
Once all those things began to fall into place, the team made a 180-degree change on where their season started. Dineen helped the Gulls climb from the bottom of the league standings and up 19 spots overall (31st to 12th) and nine positions in the Western Conference after November 1 (15th to sixth). The team posted a 30-13-6-2 record (.667%) and earned points in 38 of the 51 games. San Diego’s +37 goal differential after November 1 led the Pacific Division, ranked second in the Western Conference and tied for third among AHL clubs.
Once San Diego turned the page from 2019 to 2020, the team really hit their stride. The Gulls finished the last 29 games of their shortened season with an 18-6-4-1 record (.707%) to lead the Pacific Division in wins and points percentage. The club also ranked second in the Western Conference and fourth among AHL clubs in points percentage after the new year.
During the Gulls run of wins that eventually pushed them into a playoff position, Dineen secured a 4-2 victory over the San Jose Barracuda at SAP Center Feb. 5. That win meant a little extra, as it marked his 155th as the head coach of Anaheim’s primary affiliate, the most in the organization’s history.
In true hockey fashion, Dineen attributed the milestone to his coaches, players and staff.
“It’s a great organization to be a part of, I can’t say enough about how I’ve been treated," said Dineen in his postgame interview. "Not only this time but my first time around, so it’s a pleasure to be here. It’s fun to watch the players when I had my first round here that have gone on to have long, successful careers in the NHL. That’s what you enjoy, watching these young guys in that same process now.”
Dineen’s first season run with the Gulls was unfortunately cut short when the AHL canceled its season May 11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fans will never know what would have happened if conditions were different and the season continued. What America’s Finest fans can do is take a minute to look back on a great year of hockey in San Diego and look forward to more of the same in upcoming seasons.
“I have to say, working with this group was an absolute pleasure and it feels like unfinished business, but I think that’s being said around our whole league right now,” said Dineen. “You’re in San Diego, you can always talk about the weather and all the good things that go along with living here, but being part of this organization, you feel very fortunate.”