De Leo Eyes Roster Spot With DucksJan 5, 2021
By AJ Manderichio/SanDiegoGulls.com
Chase De Leo made sure he didn’t waste any of his extended offseason.
The ever-changing sports landscape in this COVID-19 pandemic threw most of the hockey world’s normal schedule into a proverbial blender during 2020. The National Hockey League’s season wrapped up in early September, with the Tampa Bay Lightning winning the Stanley Cup in the league’s return-to-play format, which excluded seven teams – including the Anaheim Ducks. Those seven missed out due to their place in the standings when the league halted its season in mid-March.
The American Hockey League never resumed, making the decision to cancel the 2019-20 season on May 11. It meant the Gulls – who seemed destined for a long playoff run – would join their parent club and wait for a new season to return.
The wait extended longer than any previous offseason, as players returned home to prepare for a season with no start date in mind.
“It was tough, especially in that first little part where everything got shut down,” De Leo explained. “I was fortunate enough to skate at Anaheim Ice, the old Disney Ice Rink that I spent a lot of time at growing up – that was cool. I had to skate with my mask on and get dressed in the parking lot and a couple of times I had to get dressed at home and drive fully dressed in my car kind of like how we did in Mites and Squirts.
“That was a little different, but you had to do the necessary steps to do what it takes to be ready. It was tough for everybody for awhile there, making it work with working out, skating and finding ice time, but I’m just going to do whatever I can to be prepared.”
De Leo is one of 18 former San Diego Gulls participating in the Ducks training camp at Great Park Ice & FivePoint Arena. The La Mirada, Calif. native, in his third year with the organization, set a goal during those offseason training days – to make this season his most productive.
“I kind of took it upon myself that I was going to make as many games as possible,” he said. “Maybe if some other guys were taking some time off, relaxing with their families and enjoying the days off – I kind of flipped it around and told myself this was the time that I was going to get in the best shape of my life.
“I felt like I was training for the Olympics at times. I think when month seven came around, training in my parent’s garage by myself and spending a fortune on workout equipment, I tried to prepare myself whenever the time was ready.”
De Leo, who grew up rooting for the Ducks, played in two games over the past two seasons with Anaheim. He’s spent a majority of his time with the Gulls, where he’s emerged as an offensive threat and a team leader. In two seasons with the team, De Leo scored 80 points (30G/50A) with a +20 rating in 117 AHL games. In 2019-20, he ranked second among San Diego leaders in shots (134) and tied for fifth in scoring (25).
The 2019-20 season saw the 5-10, 186-pound center record a career year on the penalty kill, scoring a career-high three shorthanded goals, which tied for the second most single-season shorthanded markers in Gulls history and ranked tied for fourth among AHL leaders.
With training camp in full swing, De Leo is using his offseason mindset to fuel him as he competes with teammates for the chance to break camp in the NHL.
“You want to be a good teammate, you want to be a good guy, you want everybody to like you, but at the same time, you have to put the blinders on for a little bit during training camp and not care if you hurt anybody else’s feelings while still being respectful and battling,” he explained. “It’s a job and our livelihoods we’re all competing for. Guys are competing to feed their families and have little kids so I just have to match that intensity and prove that you’re ready and prove that you belong.
“I know in the back of my mind, with all that work I put on and didn’t take much time off, I’m prepared as I’m ever going to be and just have to keep believing and pushing forward.”