Preview: Gulls, Reign Renew RivalryOct 24, 2019
Looking for their first win, the Gulls close their first homestand of 2019-20 and open a home-and-home matchup against the Ontario Reign tonight at Pechanga Arena San Diego (7 p.m., Stream: AHLTV, Radio: San Diego Gulls Audio Network). San Diego continues to lead the Pacific Division in all-time wins since the division’s inception in 2015-16. Following tonight’s contest, the Gulls will then conclude their six-game October schedule tomorrow evening vs. the Reign at Toyota Arena (6 p.m.).
“There’s some brutal realization that what we have done so far and our work ethic has just not been high enough,” said Gulls head coach Kevin Dineen. “We can talk about offense and how we’re going to create it, but we have to be hard to play against. I think everybody realizes it and we’re finally back getting into a couple of games this weekend. We’re really excited to get going again.”
San Diego enters the game still searching for their first point after their first four games. There’s no better way to find your game than to face your rival. The Gulls and Reign will face off for the first of their 12-game season series tonight following 48 regular-season meetings the past four years. In their 12 meetings in 2018-19, the Gulls posted an 8-3-0-1 record, including a 4-2-0-0 mark at home (4-1-0-1 on the road). San Diego enters the matchup on a three-game winning streak against Ontario dating to Feb. 8, 2019 where they have outscored the Reign 17-9 in that span. All-time, the Gulls have earned a 29-16-1-2 record vs. the Reign, including a 14-9-1-0 in San Diego (15-7-0-2 at Ontario).
Despite the slow start this season, the Gulls have been in this position before. Twenty-one games into the 2018-19 season, the Gulls ranked 29th among AHL teams, 14th in the Western Conference and dead last in the Pacific Division in points percentage (.429%). After dropping six of their first nine games and posting a record of 8-11-1-1 midway through December, San Diego found their game.
Momentum shifted and the Gulls went on to collect points in 15 consecutive games. They posted a final record of 36-24-5-3, finishing third in the Pacific Division and fourth in the Western Conference and climbing 10 spots in the Western Conference. San Diego set a club record of goals scored in a single season (236, not including shootout goals) and ranked second among all AHL teams with 3.51 goals per game. The Gulls made their third appearance in the Calder Cup Playoffs where they lost to the Chicago Wolves in the Western Conference finals, marking their longest postseason run.
A large factor in San Diego’s impressive comeback was the support they received along the way. The Gulls will look to America’s finest fans to assist them in returning to their winning ways with a significant home ice advantage. Over five seasons of hockey in San Diego, the Gulls own an all-time record of 153-99-15-8, (.600%), but have used the backing of their fans for an even more impressive 81-46-6-3 record at home (.624%).
In the 2018-19 season, San Diego led the AHL in fan attendance for the second straight season with an average of 9,021 fans per game, marking the second straight season averaging more than 9,000 per game. In 2017-18, they became the first team other than the Hershey Bears to lead the AHL in attendance since the 2007-08 season with an average of 9,305 fans. Since its inaugural season in 2015-16, San Diego has led the Western Conference and has ranked second among AHL clubs in average attendance with 8,988 fans per game and 1,231,351 fans to date across all five seasons.
“There’s no secret formula. It’s going to come down to us working hard, getting back to playing that blue-collar style,” said newly named captain Sam Carrick. “We know our systems, everything there is in place, our coaches have put all of that in place for us. It’s up to us as players. It starts with the leadership here. The older guys that have been around this league, we need to be better. Everyone needs to be better.”
The weekend set may be the markers of milestones as several players approach one. Forward Chase De Leo is two assists away from his 100th AHL assist while Justin Kloos will reach the 100 AHL points mark after four more points. Kevin Boyle is one appearance from his 100th AHL game, all while sporting a San Diego Gulls sweater. It would mark the first time a Gulls goaltender reached the century mark in games played.
Last season, a few players excelled in the matchups with the Ontario Reign. Carrick recorded 16 points (9G/7A)and a +7 rating while De Leo tallied 13 points (7G/6A) and a +5 rating. In addition, right wing Kiefer Sherwood recorded one point in each of his five games (1-4=5) against Ontario last season. Boyle picked up 5-3-0 record in eight games in the 2018-19 season series, posting a 2.76 goals-against average (GAA) and .900 save percentage (SV%).
“We came in this week and had that mindset to really get back on track and work really hard. I think we’ve taken a lot of steps forward so hopefully that comes to fruition this weekend,” said Boyle. “That’s our biggest rival. It stems all the way up to our parent club. It’s always fun playing against them and it should be fun this weekend too.”
The Reign opened the 2019-20 season with a 5-0 shutout in a statement win over the San Jose Barracuda on home ice. The Reign have followed up to earn a 4-1-1-0 record through their first five games and enter their busiest week of the month with three games in four nights, visiting Bakersfield two nights ago in a 2-1 win before the home-and-home matchup with the Gulls.
Ontario’s clear starting netminder Cal Petersen has taken control in net and has solidified himself the Reign’s clear starting goaltender. The 25-year-old netminder has four wins his first six games (4-1-1), entering tonight with a 2.43 GAA and .929 SV%, while also allowing two-or-fewer goals in four of his six appearances. Petersen turned aside 83-of-85 shots while earning a pair of victories over division rivals San Jose and Bakersfield to open the 2019-20 season (2-0-0, one shutout, a 0.96 GAA and .976 SV%), including a 41-save shutout against San Jose in the season opener.
After five seasons with the Detroit Red Wings organization, Martin Frk joined the LA Kings organization this offseason and has been Ontario’s leading goal scorer with four goals and six points (4G/2A). Mario Kempe joined the organization from Pacific Division rival Tucson, with the 31-year-old forward making an immediate impact for Ontario. Kempe, whose brother Adrian is currently with the Kings, registered multiple points in each of his first two games and currently leads the Reign in scoring (3G/4A) through the first six contests of 2019-20.