After a very successful inaugural season, the San Diego Gulls hit the ice once again in hopes of winning the Calder Cup championship. San Diego’s hockey team was eliminated during the second round of the playoffs last year after making their return after nearly a decade.
The Gulls play in the American Hockey League and serve as a minor-league affiliate to the Anaheim Ducks of the NHL. The AHL is unique in that it offers a more aggressive style of hockey from players as young as 18. Playing in the AHL means you have the opportunity to play in both leagues throughout the year.
“That is what the AHL is all about,” said BJ MacPherson, former Gulls captain and current broadcaster for the Mighty 1090, during his weekly “Gulls-in-Flight” podcast. “When your NHL team is doing poorly and needs a boost, they go to the AHL to give their guys an opportunity. The Ducks are lucky enough to have a number of NHL-ready players in their AHL program.”
Last year was a test-run for the Gulls. After a 10-year hiatus, hockey fans returned in full force. According to hockeydb.com, the Gulls finished second in the AHL in attendance with an average of 8,675 fans per game.
Following the 2015-16 season, the Gulls finished second in the Pacific division with a 39-23-4 record. They went on to defeat the Texas Stars (Dallas Stars affiliate) in the first round of the playoffs 3-1, but eventually lost to the Ontario Reign (Los Angeles Kings affiliate) in the second round 1-4.
So far this season, the Gulls are 2-1 in three games. They have already sent three players up to the Ducks organization this year including defenseman Shea Theodore.
“Personally, I felt like I did not have the best camp I possibly could have,” said Theodore Saturday after making his season debut for the Ducks. “Starting the season off with the Gulls gave me a chance to get my feet underneath me again and my confidence back. In San Diego, I get to play a lot of minutes and being the go-to guy is nice, but obviously it is nice to be back.”
Because of this, the Gulls have relied on veterans such as forward and team enforcer Stu Bickel. Bickel is playing his ninth season in the NHL.
“We have a very talented team,” said Bickel in an interview after the Gulls’ first loss of the season. “I don’t know if we got the best of Tucson in our first game, but there are more performances like that to come. We have no excuse to lose the second game of a back-to-back series. I’m excited to see what happens throughout the year.”
Look for former Gulls playing for the Ducks this year such as Theodore, Nick Ritchie, Joseph Cramarossa, Michael Sgarbossa and more. Last year they used 51 different players to fill a 25-man roster and this year is no different. With roster moves already in action this year, look for moves to be made on a weekly basis.
The next game for the Gulls is tonight, Wednesday, October 26 at 7:00 p.m. at the Valley View Casino Center against the Stockton Heat, Calgary Flames affiliate. Tickets are still available at sandiegogulls.com/ticketcentral or by calling their ticket office at 619-359-4730.