Dineen, Savant Discuss 20-21 AHL SeasonJan 5, 2021
By AJ Manderichio/SanDiegoGulls.com
The long American Hockey League offseason is finally over.
The San Diego Gulls joined with 27 other franchises yesterday to officially confirm they’re playing in the 2020-21 AHL season. San Diego will remain in the Pacific Division, where it welcomes a new opponent – the Henderson Silver Knights.
This unique season will bring a major change.
The Gulls announced the team will play its home games at FivePoint Arena at Great Park Ice in Irvine, Calif. The facility, home to the National Hockey League’s Anaheim Ducks, will help keep all the organization’s prospects in one place as the two teams resume play during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We're thrilled to have hockey back,” Gulls’ President of Business Operations Matt Savant said. “We've all been looking forward to AHL hockey, and it's here, but it has a caveat this year. Because of the state and local guidelines, we can't play in front of fans, which is the situation most teams in the AHL and NHL are facing. We can't wait to get back, but in the meantime, we do have games that are going to be on Fox 5, and we're working with another local network, to get as many games televised as possible so our fans can still share in the joy of Gulls hockey. We also have our AHL TV platform, which will broadcast all games home and away.
“We really miss our fans in San Diego and just can't wait to get back to Pechanga.”
The organization began discussing the idea of moving away from Pechanga Arena started as the potential of playing without fans became a reality.
Through the league’s Return To Play Committee, Savant and others discussed a host of other potential sites, including NHL-style bubbles in Arizona or Texas. Ultimately, without access to fans in the stands, the organization planned for a temporary move up to FivePoint Arena at Great Park Ice.
San Diego is committed to making sure its fans can stay connected to the team, promising an enhanced AHL TV broadcast for home games and partnerships with two local networks – Fox 5 San Diego and an additional television broadcast – to show games this season.
“It made sense to move the team up there for the year because the long-term health, viability and safety of these players is what we’re focusing on,” Savant said.
The facility, opened in 2019, boasts four ice sheets and the 2,500-seat FivePoint Arena. Anaheim hosted the 2019 Anaheim Rookie Faceoff, a six-team tournament featuring the top prospects from around the NHL’s Western Conference, at their facility. The prior experience – and the detail put into the construction of the arena – should help players quickly make the transition.
“One thing I know - our facility at Great Park, the Ducks spared no thought process in putting those buildings together,” Gulls’ head coach Kevin Dineen said. “You're going to get a quality product to watch on the ice, and I'm sure the production will be top notch as always.”
Dineen admitted the lack of fans in the building – especially his team’s fans – will be an adjustment.
“Let's not kid ourselves - when you don't have fans, especially our fanbase in San Diego and the quality of fans we have there, and how loud they are. That's the one thing that stuck out to me - let's not say that you're not going to miss that. When it gets to the players, the intensity will be there. I think you've seen it in bubbles - whether in basketball or hockey - the quality of play is not dropping. You have a bunch of healthy guys looking to get out and play the game, and we're all looking forward to getting back in the thick of it.”
Planning for the season continues moving at a rapid pace, with the AHL’s Board of Governors looking to approve a schedule later today. AHL teams can select the amount of games they’ll play, with a minimum of 24 for this season. Savant believes the Pacific Division will vote for around a 40-game schedule, injecting immediate urgency and intensity into each matchup.
“There's no feeling yourself into it,” Dineen explained. “You're talking more like a college season – shortened, intense, a lot of great rivalries. Believe me, there's no feeling your way into this. You have to hit the ground running.”