Gulls gather for third year in SD
Noah Hilton | Sports Editor | The USD Vista
Anaheim Ducks’ minor league affiliate looks primed for another playoff run on the ice
It is no secret in San Diego — the city is in desperate need of a rooting interest during the winter months. The departure of the NFL’s Chargers to Los Angeles last January left the city with a gaping hole at the end of the sports calendar that the college scene’s Toreros and Aztecs will understandably struggle to fill.
Enter the San Diego Gulls, a minor league ice hockey team now in their third season in America’s Finest City.
In just two seasons, the Gulls, who serve as an affiliate for the National Hockey League’s Anaheim Ducks, have managed to swoop under the falling hearts of San Diego sports fans, bringing backers to their feet with an exciting brand of hockey built on attacking the goal and flying up and down the ice at breakneck speeds.
Last season, the team improved on a strong debut campaign to finish with a 43-20 mark, good enough for second in the American Hockey League (AHL)’s Pacific Division. That success qualified them for a spot in the AHL playoffs, where they edged the rival Ontario Reign before falling in the Pacific Division finals to the San Jose Barracuda.
In his postseason exit interview with the Gulls’ media staff, head coach Dallas Eakins reflected on the team’s success in 2016-17 and mentioned the bright future that lies ahead for the franchise.
“We have a great sense of pride,” Eakins said. “When you’re the only organization with both teams still playing, that’s a real testament to our organization, and the way we’ve drafted, traded, and developed to have that still going.”
Several of the players from that team have taken a permanent step up to the big league club to start the 2017-18 campaign, leaving the Gulls with a handful of noteworthy holes to fill in the lineup.
Defenseman Brandon Montour, one of the players looking to stick at the sport’s highest level, was complimentary of the time he spent with the Gulls in an exit interview with the team’s media members.
“When I was [in San Diego], it was second to none,” Montour said. “I love that place. The staff there, the fans, and obviously playing in that rink is huge. The reason why we were successful is because of them. To me, it’s the best place to play in the league.”
Several other players, however, will be returning to San Diego in the 2017-18 season, including leading goal scorers Corey Tropp, Antoine Laganiere, and Kalle Kossila.
Kossila had perhaps the goal of the season last year, scooping up the puck with his stick and twisting it around the back of the net for the score, while Tropp and Laganiere had 21 goals apiece to tie for the team lead.
The Gulls will also roster several newcomers, including Escondido native Austin Ortega, a winger who enjoyed a brief stint with the club at the end of last season.
Speaking to the Gulls’ media team, Eakins noted that Ortega’s North County roots are an important part of what should make the youngster so appealing to fans.
“Austin brings a certain skill-set of being able to score at the college level,” Eakins said. “I think he got his eyes opened up when he got here last year regarding the pace and the fitness level. The great thing was, as soon as he got his eyes opened, he was like ‘Okay, I know what I have to do now.’ It’s a great story for the kids locally.”
The Gulls open their season this Saturday night on the road in a matchup with the Tucson Roadrunners. Following that game, the team will return to San Diego on Oct. 13 for their home opener against the Texas Stars at the Valley View Casino Center.
After two consecutive trips to the playoffs to open the team’s latest iteration in town, and backed by a fan base still recovering from the loss of the city’s beloved football franchise, the San Diego Gulls appear primed for another shot at the championship trophy in 2017-18.