It's A Wrap

Gulls Recap Season, Preach Positivity During Exit Interviews

Apr 20, 2023

By AJ Manderichio/

The equipment sat packed away in Gulls-branded bags, ready for travel around the globe as the 2022-23 San Diego Gulls spent their final day together at THE RINKS – Poway ICE.

Earlier this week, the team completed their Exit Interviews before embarking on offseason travel, each with specific areas to work on this summer. It’s an earlier date than many anticipated, and several Gulls are using the early finish as motivation for next season.

"I think championship teams, you got to go through adversity at some point, whether it's early on or sometimes in the middle of the season, which is bound to kind of happen and especially with the young group," captain Chase De Leo said. "There's lots to learn and you kind of got to just go through those experiences in order to grow. I mean, it's not exactly ideal, obviously having a losing season like that, but I think definitely take some positives and I think that we will going into next year, learning a lot from this season."

San Diego finished with a losing record, the second consecutive year the team finished below .500. They missed the playoffs for just the third time in their American Hockey League history and the first time since the 2019-20 season. With the season behind them, the team felt they learned valuable lessons throughout the course of the year.

"Yeah, I think through a season like that, you see the players that really want to play and the players that don't want to play, I guess, like those players that don't want to quit," Gulls center Bo Groulx said. "I think they make it through, and I think it's pretty obvious those who don't quit, and I think that we have a lot of guys like in the room. We have a lot of character. And I think, despite not having a good season, I think it's pretty positive that we have a lot of character players in this room. So, I think that's the biggest thing that we can get all the season."

Despite the record, the team did show development as the season progressed. Several players discussed a turning point around Christmas, when defenseman Michael Del Zotto joined the team. Acquired in a three-team trade with the Detroit and Florida organizations, Del Zotto brought a wealth of National Hockey League experience to the team, setting expectations for the team’s young core.

"Yeah, I think that guys just bought in after Christmas," Groulx said. "I think we were feeling sorry for ourselves a bit the first couple of months, but after that, we just are working really hard off and ond on the ice and I think it really showed. We were really a different team, and especially we added a couple of players too, and that really helped us all around the lineup. We changed a couple of things in our system, too. So that helped a lot, too, but I think it's just the guys buying in and just working their tail off."

Gulls defenseman Drew Helleson credited Del Zotto with helping him find new levels in his game.

"It's priceless to have a guy like that around," Helleson said. "You don't play 750 NHL games for no reason. When we got him, I was excited - actually nervous at first, because I watched him growing up and stuff - I would never tell him that now, but he's just been great for us. Not just for me but for the team. I think you saw when he came over things kind of made a little change, which is good. He’s just so mature, been around the game for so long, so knows it very well. He taught he taught me a lot of things. Like I said, really priceless for this year for me."

Helleson marked one of three Gulls to earn a National Hockey League call-up. The defenseman joined Groulx and goaltender Lukas Dostal, who never returned to the AHL following his recall on February 11.

"Well when you coach in the American Hockey League, you know, the biggest thing about coaching at this level is moving guys along," Sommer said. "I know when I was in San Jose, if you could put, you know, two to four guys up a year, and they don't have to go out and spend a lot of money on a free agent and they can go out and contribute and play, that you've done your job at this level. And if you look at the guys who went up at the end of the year, (Drew) Helleson deserved it from where he came (from) when he first started to where he ended up. You know, going back and shoulder check and making good decisions with the puck and being harder to play against. And, you know, a guy that's always coming to the rink ready to play, and a lot of that had to do I think with his partner, (Michael) Del Zotto. Made big strides and is going to end up playing for the Ducks.

"Bo Groulx, our best player I thought, most consistent player throughout the year. Another guy that deserved to go. And then (Lukas) Dostal. You know, Dostal was probably the best player or best goalie in the American Hockey League, deserved a chance, deserved the opportunity, and made the best of it. I think they know that they have a guy that they can count on for next year."

The individual success stories from the 2022-23 season are part of the swan song for Sommer, who announced his retirement before the team’s season finale in Colorado last weekend. The coach concludes his decorated career with an 828-770-110 record. Sommer is the AHL’s all-time leader in wins (828) and games coached (1,814) after spending the last 27 consecutive seasons as a coach in the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks organizations. The coach praised the fans for supporting the team throughout the season, regardless of record.

"Great fan base," Sommer said. "Anyone that you know, has played here or been to San Diego, you leave after the game and there's a bunch of people, like, cheering you on win or lose and, you know, that was really special. I didn't even realize that San Diego was the third best draw in the league. You know, so that tells you something about, you know, people love hockey here and they really get behind the players and the team. That’s what's so special about the San Diego fan base. Even you go to the Padres games, you know, sold out, great venue. Just kind of a nice place to live. I’ll always remember San Diego as my last stomping ground."

The players discussed the special bond they formed with the retired bench boss, crediting Sommer for his genuine approach.

"Yeah, I mean, Roy, he's a character," Gulls forward Brayden Tracey said. "I mean, he is one. He just brightens the mood, you know, every day. He's cracking jokes. I mean, he has his little quotes on the board every day or every game. You know, he is just a huge impact on and off the ice. I mean, his character speaks out to itself. I mean, he one of the best guys I've ever met. I think I can call him like a friend. I think my whole life whether it's down the road, I think he's always gonna be someone that's there. You know, that goes like, you know, 20 years down the road if you ever need to talk. I think Roy can be that guy. He’s a good, good character, good coach. I mean, yeah, we got no complaints about Roy."

As the players from this year’s team spread around the globe, there’s hope the future is brighter than the grey-filled clouds over Poway that day. De Leo looked toward his prior experience in the New Jersey Devils organization as an example of what could come.

"Yeah, I think I think New Jersey Devils are a great example," De Leo said. "I spent last year in New Jersey, and they were dead last and now I think their second place and gonna be playing playoff hockey. So, it's a funny sport. Things happened very fast. Lots of turnover, guys in (and) guys out on a daily basis. And like I said, you got to go through adversity at certain points and I think that we're definitely gonna grow from this."

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