Gulls Look Forward to Stretch Run
Team enters March schedule one point back of fourth place, six points back of firstMar 5, 2020
By AJ Manderichio/SanDiegoGulls.com
There’s nothing like home, especially to break up a long road trip.
In the middle of a club-record seven-game, 15-day road trip, the San Diego Gulls took advantage of four days back in Southern California. The team celebrated its big win over San Jose – and taking four-of-a-possible six points during the first three games of the trip – with a few focused days of practice at THE RINKS – Poway ICE.
These days came at the right time for head coach Kevin Dineen and his staff.
“We went through a stretch of a lot of games, but you know what – sometimes that’s what the doctor ordered,” he said following Thursday’s practice. “You’re not overcoaching, you’re not putting practices together. You put your lineup together and let’s go play, and I think our players enjoy that. As coaches, you’re always looking for that time to work on a few areas, so we felt like we accomplished some things we wanted to do this week.”
As the calendar flipped from February to March, the Gulls entered the crucial stretch run of the season. It’s the final push to grab one of the top four spots in the division and punch their ticket to the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Currently, San Diego finds itself on the outside looking in. The team trails the rival Ontario Reign by a single standings point with two games in hand. They also sit just two points shy of Stockton and three of the Colorado Eagles. Even the Tucson Roadrunners – who spent most of this season leading the Pacific Division – are in striking distance, with a six-point lead on San Diego.
“It’s a tight race,” captain Sam Carrick said. “No team seems to be running away with, and no team seems to be falling behind. These are all huge games. Doesn’t matter who we’re playing, these are going to be massive points for us. It’s fun. We’ve been fighting and clawing the whole year. It’s been a fun ride so far, and we’ve been comfortable in each game. Whether we’re up by a goal or down by a goal, we feel comfortable that we can win. I think we’re in a good place right now.”
The Gulls face a tough test in their quest to clinch a playoff spot. San Diego’s remaining schedule is the second toughest in the division, trailing Ontario by mere percentage points. They’ll face the Reign, Eagles and Heat three more times this season, with their final two games against the Roadrunners next week.
San Diego has four games remaining against teams out of the playoff hunt – the Bakersfield Condors (1) and the San Jose Barracuda (3).
Stressing the need to stay in the present, Dineen doesn’t allow himself to think ahead.
“The focus is on San Jose right now,” he explained. “We’re not worried beyond our road trip. We know we started with three on the road and we have four more. That’s where our focus is right now – these next four – and then we’ll look at San Jose at home next Friday. Look forward after a long stretch to get back and have some home cooking in our building.”
The team sees an advantage to spending part of this stretch run on the road. Between the National Hockey League’s trade deadline and roster moves from the Anaheim Ducks, the Gulls roster saw several changes over the last two weeks. Traveling together provides the opportunities for new teammates to quickly assimilate and adjust to their new surroundings.
“We start to all buy in as a team,” Carrick explained. “We’re spending so much time together; we’re becoming a family here. That’s when things really get fun. These games are so important for us; every night is huge. We’re out there every night fighting for each other and battling as a team. We need everyone going for sure on every night.”
There’s no secret to the team success; no magic formula leading to improved performances and wins. Chase De Leo credits a sharp focus – and a willingness to buy into the system – for the team’s second-half turnaround.
“It’s definitely the time of the year where, in order to win, everyone must do their job on the team and play their role,” the La Mirada, Calif. native explained. “Usually, that’s when teams have success – when guys buy into the systems and buy into their jobs on the team. Just keep doing all the little things right, because honestly, at this time of the year, the little things are what causes the big moments – and the big things – to happen.”
As the team packed its bags for another trip to Northern California – and a back-to-back set against the last-place Barracuda ahead – Dineen stressed the current opponent is the most important one.
“Let’s not kid ourselves, San Jose went in and had a couple of good games against Iowa this week, so we know we have our hands full with this opponent,” he stressed. “Their record speaks otherwise, but they have a very young, sharp coaching staff. That certainly was a heck of a game out there, and we were fortunate to come away with two points last time we played there. Our preparation has to be ready right from the puck drop and continue from there.”