By Thomas Harrington
After defeating the Texas Stars in four games, the San Diego Gulls will now face the Ontario Reign, the AHL affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings and regular season Pacific Division Winners. Round two starts on Thursday, and the format of the series will see San Diego and Ontario alternate the location of every single game between the two teams. Unlike the first round which was a best of five, the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs is a best of seven series.
The best players for San Diego in the first round were Nick Ritchie, Michael Sgarbossa, Chris Mueller, Shea Theodore, and Anton Khudobin. However, after leaving game four with an injury, it looks like Khudobin will not be ready to go for game one, meaning Matt Hackett will be San Diego’s starter. Ryan Faragher has been called up from the ECHL to be Hackett’s backup.
Ontario defeated the San Jose Barracuda in four games to advance to the second round series. In those four games, Nic Dowd led the team in scoring with four points, and Dowd, Jonny Brodzinski, Adrian Kempe, and Kurtis MacDermid were all tied for the team with two goals. After dominating the AHL in the regular season, Peter Budaj continued his strong play in net, posting a 1.51 goals against average and a .925 save percentage in the first round series against San Jose. In the regular season, Ontario’s attack was driven by Sean Backman, Dowd, and Michael Mersch, as all three players eclipsed the 40 point mark, but Ontario’s best player during the regular season was Budaj. Budaj had 42 wins in just 60 games, a 1.75 goals against average and a .932 save percentage.
In the regular season, the Gulls and the Reign faced each other a total of 12 times, with the Gulls winning eight of those 12 games. Despite the Gulls’ strong record against Ontario, the Reign were one of the best teams in the AHL this past season, as they were the top team in the Western Conference. They are led by a balanced attack and a star goaltender who has quite a bit of NHL experience. In order for the Gulls to prevail in this series, they will need their top players from round one to continue to produce. They also need a couple other players to get going: Corey Tropp, Brandon Montour, and Kalle Kossila. Tropp was acquired at the trade deadline and had a great finish to the regular season but had no points in the first round. Montour was San Diego’s best player during the regular season and was tied for the team lead in points and was third in rookie scoring in the AHL. He did have two points in the first round, but the Gulls will need more from him against Ontario. Kossila only played in six games after signing a contract with the Ducks, but he had four points in those six games. He was held scoreless in the first round series and if he can get on the board for San Diego, it would go a long way to helping the Gulls defeat the Reign.
Besides Kossila, the Gulls signed several players to ATO contracts at the end of the season, and San Diego essentially has a second team they could ice right now. Most of them are not expected to play, but former first round pick Jacob Larsson (who just signed his entry-level contract with the Ducks this morning) could see action at some point in this series. He’s a smooth skater with good instincts all over the ice. The Gulls already have Theodore and Montour in the lineup, but the addition of Larsson could give them one of the best skating defenses in the AHL, something that could prove very useful against a strong Ontario team.
While it’s a clear step down from the NHL, the AHL is a really fun league to watch, and if you get the chance, I highly encourage you to watch, listen, or even go to one the games in this series. Since it’s against Ontario, every single game in this series will be relatively local for Anaheim fans. It should be a great series and the Gulls have a real chance to do something special in their first season as Anaheim’s affiliate in Southern California.
The series starts on tomorrow May 5th in Ontario at 7PM. The games are streamed online here: https://scorestream.com/
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