By Thomas Harrington
The San Diego Gulls will face off against the Texas Stars in their first round, best of five series in the Calder Cup Playoffs. The Gulls hold home ice advantage in the series, but the playoff format is a little different in the AHL. The home team has the option to either have the first two games and the final game played on home ice, or the final three games played on home ice. San Diego has elected for the latter option, and game one will be in Texas on Thursday at 5:30 Pacific.
The Gulls and Stars faced each other six times in the regular season, with Texas winning five of the six games. In the Gulls’ lone win against Texas, Stefan Noesen scored the game winning goal in the 3-2 victory.
As the series opens, San Diego will have most of its best players available, with one major exception: Shea Theodore. With Clayton Stoner and Josh Manson unable to play for Anaheim, Theodore has stepped in and played well in the Ducks’ first three games of their first round series against Nashville. If the Ducks fall in round one or one of Stoner or Manson are ready to go, he could return to the Gulls to help them in their quest for the Calder Cup.
Offensively, the Gulls’ are led by veteran Chris Mueller and rookie Brandon Montour, both of whom had 57 points this season. Mueller is an AHL veteran of several seasons who has been used sparingly in the NHL over the course of his nine year professional career. Montour is an Anaheim second round pick from a couple years ago and had a fantastic rookie season; he has become one of the Ducks’ top prospects. After those two, the Gulls have Michael Sgarbossa, Noesen, Antoine Laganiere, Nick Ritchie, and Nic Kerdiles to round out their offensive attack. Ritchie only had 30 points this season for San Diego, but he missed 30 games during multiple call-ups to Anaheim. If he’d played the entire season, his point totals would have probably been around Mueller’s and Montour’s. Sgarbossa has been an effective top six center for San Diego in his first full season in the Anaheim organization, while Laganiere is another veteran presence that scored some big goals this year. Noesen and Kerdiles are two of Anaheim’s better prospects, but both struggled at times this season. Noesen finally played a full season in the AHL, but had a very slow start to the year. His play picked up as the season went along and set career highs across the board. Kerdiles missed significant time with injury, but set a career high in both goals and points while playing in fewer games than the season before. The Gulls’ offensive attack has also been bolstered by the deadline acquisition of Corey Tropp, whom they got from Chicago for Tim Jackman at the trade deadline. In 15 games with San Diego, he has five goals and 11 points, including the overtime game winner in a wild affair against Bakersfield.
On the backend, Montour and Theodore really power this team. With Theodore out for the time being, it will to the rest of San Diego’s defense to take over for him, including veterans Shane O’Brien, Stu Bickel, Joe Piskula, and young players Andrew O’Brien, Jaycob Megna, and newcomer Martin Gernat.
In net, San Diego has a couple of veterans: former Anaheim backup Anton Khudobin and Matt Hackett have played in a majority of the Gulls’ games. Of the two, Khudobin has posted the better numbers and will most likely be the game one starter against Texas.
The Ducks signed a number of college players at the conclusion of their NCAA seasons: Andy Welinski, Kevin Roy, Kalle Kossila, Kevin Boyle, and Tyler Morley, as well as Canadian junior player Deven Sideroff. Welinski, Roy, and Sideroff are all Anaheim draft picks, while Kossila, Boyle, and Morley were free agents at the conclusion of the college careers. All of these players, except for Boyle, got a few games with the Gulls before the AHL regular season ended, but it remains to be seen how much they are used by San Diego during the playoffs.
Based upon the regular season record, most would give Texas the advantage; however, the last game played between these two teams was back in mid-February, and both rosters have seen a decent amount of change since then. It’s in the nature of the AHL to have relatively volatile rosters and constant turnover. As long as San Diego can pick up at least one win in the two games in Texas, they will be in good position to advance to the second round, since the Gulls were a very good home team this season, winning 20 out of 34 games.
If you get the chance, I strongly encourage you to watch these games on TV or listen to them on the radio. The Gulls are a lot of fun to watch and will give you a good look at some of the future Anaheim stars.
Ducks sign defenseman Keaton Thompson to a three-year entry level contract
Thompson is 6″1″, weighs 201 pounds and shoots left handed. He scored 17 total points(2G + 15A) with a +21 rating and 36 penalty minutes (PIM) in 43 games with the North Dakota Fighting Hawks this season. He led his team to the 2015-16 NCAA National Championship.
He was elected by Anaheim in the third round (87th overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft. Over three seasons with North Dakota, Thompson captured two regular season championships in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference(NCHC), scoring 36 total points(8G + 28A) with a +43 rating.
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