Gulls Turning the Page on 2019, Ready for the New Year and a New DecadeDec 31, 2019
By Joe Spurrier/SanDiegoGulls.com
As the clock counts down towards midnight next Tuesday night, one year turns to the next as the second decade of the century closes.
The Gulls turn the page to the 2020 calendar year and the so-called midway point of their fifth AHL season in San Diego. Although the time between the holiday break and the start of the next decade doesn’t mark the exact halfway mark of the AHL season, many teams view it as an opportunity to improve their performance and use it as a turning point.
“We know what our situation is and feel that our push has to come now.” said Gulls head coach Kevin Dineen at a recent practice. “It’s not the true half-point of the season, but we feel that after that Christmas break is when you get a chance to regroup, get out on the ice and get ready to go.”
The Gulls spent their four-day holiday break recovering both physically and mentally to prepare for the upcoming slate of games. Now, the task at hand will be to utilize practice to shake any rust off and get back to work.
“Just get your legs back under you, make hard crisp passes and get guys’ wind back,” said first-year Gulls netminder Anthony Stolarz on what the focus is heading back into practice. “You go six days a week going at it hard every day and then you get four days off, you’re going to be a little sluggish to start.”
“You grind and you work hard and there’s a lot of preparation for every game,” added Dineen. “When you come back and you see how the guys practiced yesterday, they were a little bit rusty, but you could tell there was some enthusiasm and there was a genuine enjoyment being back around each other. In all honesty, at the beginning of the year, when we had seven days sometimes between games, those practices on Monday and Tuesday, no matter how you try to drive that up, there’s nothing like a sense of urgency.”
That sense of urgency stems from the current playoff picture where the Gulls sit sixth in the Pacific Division.
“The second half just started and we have to start clawing our way back in and hopefully make up some ground here,” said Kiefer Sherwood.
Although there is a lot of hockey left to play, the Gulls are on the outside looking in. As of Dec. 28, Gulls currently sit sixth in the Pacific Division with a 12-12-2-1 record and 27 points through 27 games. Entering the final contest of the calendar year and decade, the Gulls sit five games back in the games played column compared to their Southern California rival Ontario Reign and hold at least two games in hand on the other five clubs above them in the standings.
However, San Diego has experienced a slower schedule than in seasons past with multiple extended breaks between contests and fewer games played than any other team in the league. Fewer than any other professional hockey club in North America to be exact. The drawn-out first half of the season means that the Gulls will be busy in the coming months, beginning with a 12-game January schedule to begin the decade.
“For me, I worry about this week,” said Dineen regarding the road ahead. “A strong opponent in Ontario and then go into what I thought was a fabulous hockey game early in the year when we played Tucson. At the end of it, we’ve had some really good hockey games against both of these teams. We want to finish out the year right and put ourselves in a position where it’s fun to look at the standings.”
The Gulls earned three of a possible four points against the Reign last weekend and finish 2019 with a road game in Tucson New Year’s Eve.
Following the last game of 2019, San Diego will look to continue their traditional success in the second half. Over the first four years in club history, the Gulls have never experienced a losing record after the turn of the calendar year. All-time, San Diego owns a 97-48-11-3 record in 159 games following the month of December (.654%), ranking among the top clubs in the AHL in points percentage.
One year ago, the Gulls also sat sixth in the division with an 11-11-1-3 mark and six points shy of fourth place. That team rattled off 24 wins and 53 points in the final 40 games (24-11-4-1) to climb three places in the standings and make a run to the Western Conference Finals with the momentum build with the strong finish.
“Right now, we just have to focus on our game,” said Gulls defenseman Simon Benoit regarding the multiple games in hand. “If we play good and focus on how we play, everything is going to go well for us I think.”