New Year Brings Excitement and Hard Work AheadJan 7, 2019
The 2018 calendar year is behind us and it’s a welcome site to embark on what 2019 has in store for the San Diego Gulls.
While 2018 is in the rearview mirror, San Diego had an incredible past year on and off the ice, most notably the best fans in the AHL. America’s Finest City packed their home arena throughout the year and helped San Diego lead the AHL in attendance (9,305 avg.) during the 2017-18 season, setting new club marks for a third straight season in overall attendance (316,368). In leading the league in fans in seats, San Diego became the first team in 12 seasons to usurp the Hershey Bears atop the league’s attendance charts. The fans continued with their strong support, opening the current campaign with 12,467 in attendance for the club’s first home game, the most in an AHL home opener this season. The Gulls also sold out their 11th game in club history on Nov. 9 with a packed 12,920 for the first night of Military Weekend.
The organization continues to develop NHL-ready player for the Anaheim Ducks, with 15 players currently having appeared in a game for both Anaheim and San Diego this season. Those players include Pontus Aberg, Joseph Blandisi, Sam Carrick, Max Comtois, Jake Dotchin, Kalle Kossila, Jacob Larsson, Isac Lundestrom, Josh Mahura, Luke Schenn, Sam Steel, Ben Street, Andrej Sustr, Troy Terry and Andy Welinski. Anaheim’s current roster to start the calendar year has 10 former Gulls making up its 23-man roster.
Players like Comtois, Lundestrom, Mahura, Steel and Terry have all made their NHL debuts the past year, while also spending time in the AHL to further develop and hone their respective games to become prominent NHL players for the Ducks long term.
The Gulls completed the 2018 calendar year with a 35-26-3-4 record (.566%), including a 23-16-2-2 record on home ice (.581%). The Gulls completed the month of December with a 6-4-0-2 record, and were tied in the third period in each of the four defeats, showing just how close to seven to 10 wins this team could have been if a few bounces wen their way.
Looking back over a longer stretch, the Gulls own an all-time record of a 135-82-11-8, good for 289 points in 236 games and a .612 points percentage dating to 2015. With the 135 wins, Gulls head coach Dallas Eakins now has 135 victories behind the bench for San Diego which is tied with Kevin Dineen for the most wins by a head coach of an Anaheim Ducks primary affiliate. Dineen led the Portland Pirates to a 135-76-13-16 record (299 points, .623%) in 240 games over three seasons from 2005-08.
Entering the 2019 calendar year, the Gulls sat two points outside of a playoff spot at fifth in the Pacific Division standings. San Diego had two games in hand on the fourth-place Colorado Eagles, and were even on games played with the Bakersfield Condors who sat in third place in the division with 34 points level on games played with the Gulls, but had two more regulation or overtime wins, the AHL’s first tiebreaker.
As we turn the page on the previous year, January will see the Gulls (as of Jan. 8) with six consecutive wins and points in 11 straight games (9-0-0-2) dating to Dec. 14, both the current longest such streaks in the AHL. Stringing wins and points together has been a theme, as the club have put together wins in five straight at home, and have wins in four straight on the road and points in six straight contests on the away from home (4-0-0-2).
Going back to the morning of Dec. 14, the Gulls had lost four consecutive games and sat last in the AHL in both points and points percentage at 8-11-1-1 (.429%). Since then, San Diego’s many streaks have vaulted the club into third in the Pacific Division and 13th overall in the AHL at .594%.
“We just figured out how we need to win, roll four lines and six defensemen and get some good goaltending, and things just start going right for us,” said Gulls captain Jaycob Megna. “We have a great group of guys. Everyone is out there fighting for each other. We’re a team and it’s really nice to see.”
During a stretch of 11 games where consistency has become a prominent facet of the team’s performance, the most consistent aspect has been the inconsistent lineup. 34 players have appeared in a game for the Gulls over the last 11 games. Thirty four. That’s 20 different forwards, 11 defensemen and three goaltenders. Five of those players were on professional tryouts.
How did they get to this point? Toughening up, playing a more gritty style and learning the finer details of the game that make a bigger difference.
During the 11-game point streak, the Gulls have outscored their opponents by a 17 goal margin (46-29) but what truly stands out is the 15 goal margin in the third period where San Diego has scored 23 goals in that span. Their opposition has scored eight total. These 11 games could have all been wins as well, as both blemishes were shootout losses to Bakersfield and Ontario.
“We’re trying to get it all covered. We want to come out in games and score first. We want to also be a team that if we get behind, we can come from behind,” said Gulls head coach Dallas Eakins. “Before we went out for the third, we went through it again. How we want to play in the third period with a lead and giving up only two shots against and getting some for, there’s no better way to defend a lead.”
The second half of the AHL campaign is quickly upon us the back end of the schedule is where San Diego has traditionally been one of the strongest teams in the AHL. In three previous seasons, the Gulls lead the Western Conference and rank second among AHL teams with a .667 points percentage, a 64-30-6-2 record in games 35-68 on the schedule. Entering the 2018-19 season’s second half, only the Milwaukee Admirals have matched San Diego’s 64 wins in the back half of their season since the 2015-16 season, San Diego’s first in the league.
“We need to make sure every night we’re doing our job. We have found ways to win the last few games but we haven’t had our best and that’s a good sign,” added Megna. “We want to play our best every night so it’s just taking it one game at a time and realizing the challenge that’s ahead of us.”
The Gulls have the second-fewest losses in the AHL in that span of second half games, while also leading the Western Conference in that category. Of note, the Gulls play four fewer-second half games each season playing a 68-game Pacific Division schedule compared to the 76 games the other three divisions embark on, showcasing the strength of the Gulls winning games in the latter stages of the season. Just two years ago the Gulls boasted the league’s leading record with a 25-8-1-0 mark in the final 34 games of the season.
January is a month where the club has had success in the past, posting a 22-11-1-1 record all-time in the month, but looking ahead it will provide a rather difficult start to the new year. The 11-game month pits eight road games and only three home games, the fewest contests on home ice in a single month all season. The Gulls are currently 3-0 since the turn of the year. What helps is the strong foundation Eakins has built the past several weeks in turning around a rough start beset with organization injuries that have tested the depth of both clubs.
Despite the aforementioned tough start through Dec. 14, the team’s 17-11-1-3 record (38 points) through 32 games is the best start in club history through that many contests.
“We’re real proud of where we’re at today. We still have a long way to go but I’m really encouraged by our team’s mindset lately,” said Eakins. “I’m trying to do my best to get some chemistry here but it’s been tough with the amount of injuries that we’ve been coming across.”
When February approaches it should be a month to look forward to. An all-time record of 25-6-0-1 in the year’s second month is best in the first three years of the organization, and March hasn’t disappointed either at 22-9-4-1. February will see the Gulls play 11 times (six road, five home) and March is a busy month with 13 overall contests, with seven on home ice. The Gulls will round out the season with just five games leading into what the club hopes is a push into the Calder Cup Playoffs for the third time in four season after missing out on a tiebreaker with San Jose last season despite equaling the Barracuda on points.
Needless to say, there is an incredible amount of hockey to be played to know what truly lies ahead for this team. It’s a new year which brings new excitement for a team as thrilling to watch as the one in America’s Finest City. It’s a style of play that has become fast and physical, and the team has what Eakins has consistently labeled as a hardness to it that’s here to stay.
“The other thing that we’ve done, and this is a credit to our players, we’ve really tightened the screws up with our level of hardness and grittiness, and it’s something that this team has had to play with to have success,” added Eakins. “They’ve really embraced that and we’re not going to let our foot off the pedal. We talk about mindset on a daily basis and it’s amazing what you can achieve when you have your mind right.”
“Every day you come to the rink you want to come better and improve.”
Buckle up, it’s going to be quite a ride with your Gulls the next three months, or maybe even six. Time will tell.