Preview: Gulls Open Preseason at OntarioSep 26, 2019
The Gulls open the 2019 preseason today against the Ontario Reign at Toyota Arena (10 a.m.) in the first of two exhibition contests against their Southern California rival. Entering their fifth season, San Diego is 4-3-0-2 all-time in seven preseason games, including 2-0-0-2 on the road.
As has become tradition, the annual Cool School game is Ontario’s early, education themed game that provides hockey related materials to students and teachers from around the Inland Empire. For a team in San Diego trying to get off on the right foot to begin preseason, it’s an early start for the group but the preparation
“I think it’ll be nice to get a game under our belt and have something to build off of as a group,” said Gulls forward Corey Tropp. “I don’t mind (the early start). Sometimes it’s better to not have to warm up twice in one day so it’ll be good. We’ve done it for I think four years in a row now so for the guys that have been here before, we’re kind of used to it. I think the majority of the (AHL) has a school game or something throughout the course of the season, so I don’t think it’s too unfamiliar to most.”
The Gulls and Reign face off for the first of two preseason contests and the ninth exhibition meeting between the clubs dating to 2015. San Diego is 4-2-0-2 all-time over Ontario in exhibition games, including 2-0-0-2 at Toyota Arena. In 12 meetings during the 2018-19 regular season, the Gulls posted an 8-3-0-1 record, including a 4-1-0-1 mark on the road (4-2-0-0 in San Diego). San Diego won the last three contests in 2018-19, outscoring the Reign 17-9. All-time, the Gulls have earned a 29-16-1-2 record vs. the Reign, in addition to a 15-7-0-2 record at Ontario (14-9-1-0 in San Diego).
Last season was the club’s most successful to date where the team finished the regular season with a 36-24-5-3 record for 80 points, ranking third in the Pacific Division and fourth in the Western Conference. The team set a new club record for goals in a single season, netting 236 goals (excluding shootout goals) to rank second among AHL teams with 3.51 goals per game.
But it was the team’s playoff run advancing to the Western Conference Finals under now Anaheim Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins that set the bar for expectations heading into 2018-19. On its way to the Conference Finals, San Diego defeated San Jose (four games) in the First Round of the Calder Cup Playoffs and knocked off the No. 1 West seed Bakersfield in the Pacific Division Finals (six games) before the Chicago Wolves eliminated San Diego in six games. It was that run that elevated Eakins’ status in the organization and his hiring in June. A month later, the Gulls had their new man.
Head Coach Kevin Dineen will step behind the bench for his first game in charge of the Gulls after his appointment July 15. The 55-year old coach returns to the organization following a three-year stint as head coach of the organization’s primary affiliate in Portland from 2005-08 where he led the team to two appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals. He spent the last four seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks as an assistant, helping the club to a 2015 Stanley Cup while also led the Canadian women’s national team to a gold medal at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
Returning for their second season with the organization are assistant coaches Sylvain Lefebvre and David Urquhart. Training camp and preseason are an opportunity to evaluate players the staff is familiar with from last and those that joined the organization this summer and in training camp.
“It’s really exciting, it’s evaluation time for a lot of those guys,” said Lefebvre on the current makeup of the team following roster moves by Anaheim. “There’s a lot of new faces and it’s great for us coaches to see different players. Players that came from us last year, we know. What we’re looking for is the work that they’ve put in during the summer, how they’ve come to camp so far and how they’ve progressed through camp.”
“For the new guys, the first impression is key as well. It’s great that we have not only the chance to play a few exhibition games, but also get in a few practices in before.”