Kirkland's Signature

Justin Kirkland Breaks Down Signing With Anaheim Organization And His Time Playing Against San Diego

Aug 15, 2022

By AJ Manderichio/

Justin Kirkland knew he wanted to sign with the Anaheim organization.

The Winnipeg native, fresh off a career year with the Stockton Heat, went into free agency this summer looking to sign with the Ducks.

"I told my agent, from day one, that Anaheim was top of the list," Kirkland said in a recent phone interview. "That was before I even knew he had talked to them. We’re absolutely thrilled to work something out with them and head down to SoCal and check it out down there. We’re thrilled about it."

The 2021-22 season saw the sixth-year pro post career-highs in goals (25), assists (23) and points (48) while leading the Heat to a first-place finish in the Pacific Division, its highest regular-season finish in its American Hockey League history. Stockton followed their stellar regular season with a run to the Western Conference Finals, with Kirkland powering the charge. The left wing scored 7-5=12 points in 13 postseason contests as his team lost to the eventual Calder Cup Champion Chicago Wolves, 4-2, in the best-of-seven series.

Kirkland credits his strong season with a few simple tweaks to his offseason routine.

"It was exciting to see the hard work pay off," he said. "It really started the summer prior. I moved down to Calgary to spend my summers here once I signed with the Flames to skate and train with their staff, their strength coaches and skills coaches and things like that. I really do believe it was the result of the summer and the work I put in. I felt like I’ve possessed that skill and stuff for a while, it was just a confidence thing. You’re trying to build your game year in and year out. I felt like last year, things really clicked. They say it can be coincidence or not, but I firmly believe that came from a really hard summer’s work. I’m thankful for all the guys who helped me in that summer and pushed me to be better. That’s something I’m working on again this summer and hopefully that translates into the season coming up."

Coming off the long run left Kirkland with about a month before free agency opened. The left wing admitted he felt comfortable with the process, especially a strong season in his back pocket, but felt the stress of the unknown. When it came to identifying the Anaheim organization at the top of his wish list, he discussed the blend of location and opportunity.

"Probably one of the number one reasons is the lifestyle of Southern California," he explained. "Whether you’re in Anaheim or San Diego, you’re in two of the most beautiful cities, I think, in America. That was very appealing. Every time I traveled to San Diego when I was with Stockton, it was breathtaking. I loved every trip of it. I think everyone in pro hockey knows Anaheim and San Diego are probably the top duo for cities and places to live. That was a big factor.

"Also, I thought there was opportunity in Anaheim for me. I’m a guy that’s pushing to try to make the next step and have the self-belief that I can. I’m just looking for an opportunity. Hopefully that happens this year with Anaheim and all the hard work pays off. We’re really excited to get down there and get things going."

Kirkland also enjoyed his visits to Pechanga Arena San Diego and the atmosphere Gulls fans created for each game.

"Getting to come and play there four or five times a year, that was always one that you knew was always going to be a hard-fought battle," he said. "You knew the fans were going to be playing a part of it. There were a few games a couple of years ago when I was injured and sitting in the stands, being able to see it from that point of view. It’s exciting, it’s awesome. They’ve done a fantastic job down there of growing the game in Southern California. They’ve got quite the following now. It’s quite exciting stuff."

He also did his own research, talking with former Gulls Mike Liambas and Andy Welinski about the city and the organization. 

"Being able to talk to them and pick their brains a little bit about how things are run, the city and the organization and things like that, it really seemed like the perfect fit for me," Kirkland said. "Like I said, it was the number one organization on my list, and we ended up there. We’re over the moon excited."

With a one-year, two-way contract secured for the upcoming season, the left wing is back in Calgary, skating with a pro group run by current Seattle Kraken associate coach Dave Lowry. He’s also taken some time to enjoy the offseason, avoiding the annual Calgary Stampede but visiting Banff and Lake Louise with his wife and her family. The couple have a dog, and Kirkland says they enjoy spending time outdoors. The duo hopes to head to Orange County soon – Kirkland said his wife is a huge Disney fan, so a trip to the park is on their to-do list – and settle in to prep for training camp with the Ducks.

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