By Cameron Struyk
As discussed in our recent podcasts, there is a hint of uncertainty amongst the fans heading into this year’s hockey season. It is a possibility that there will be a youth movement in Anaheim with players coming from the San Diego Gulls. Having that said, the fans of the developmental leagues; the AHL and ECHL, could be losing some of their favorite players in the rink to the higher club, which in reality, we all should be hoping for.
Last season the Anaheim Ducks seemed to regularly call up several players including Nick Ritchie, Shea Theodore, Mike Sgarbossa, Harry Zolniercyzk (signed with Predators), Max Friberg (traded mid-season), among others. Each of these players saw ice time with the Ducks, but when the season came to a close, they were left on the Gulls roster as opposed to being left on the Ducks roster (except defenseman Shea Theodore).
Nick Ritchie is a player to watch within the Ducks organization, and it will be interesting to see which roster he lands on come opening night. He played 33 games for the Ducks, posting 37 PIM while only tallying 4 points. For the Gulls, he appeared in 47 games, scoring the franchise’s first ever goal and finishing with 21 goals and 17 assists, good enough to join Brandon Montour in the AHL’s All-Star game. Brandon Montour is another subject entirely as he was never called up by the Anaheim Ducks, most likely because they wanted him to develop more. His skills are admirable, to say the least: playing in all 68 regular season games with an impressive 12 goals and 45 assists. There is no doubt Montour has what it takes to have a shot to play with the Anaheim Ducks, so it is quite possible for the Gulls to be lacking two key defensemen in Montour and Theodore at times during this season. That leaves vacated seats in the defense which will likely be comprised of Andrew Welinski, Stu Bickel, Jeff Schultz (acquired from the Reign), Keaton Thompson, Andrew O’Brien, and Jaycob Megna. That’s not to say Montour or Theodore will spend a majority of their time with the Ducks next season, but it is possible that the young kids in the organization have their shots at playing time at the Honda Center this fall, and possibly move up the lines in the Duck’s organization.
When looking for evidence of a “youth movement,” one does not need to look further than Ducks Goalie John Gibson. It was clear at the end of the offseason that either Gibson or Andersen would be dealt with, and the Ducks proceeded to go with the younger Gibson despite some fan disapproval. Gibson in tandem with Andersen won the William M. Jennings trophy, along with helping the Pacific Division All-Star team win the first All-Star Tournament. While I couldn’t confirm the stat, it’s a safe bet to say Gibson is the first goaltender (if not player) to start the season in the AHL only to wind up being an NHL All-Star. Gibson has also recently been named to the North American Team of the World Cup, which is made of a compilation of the best players under 23 in North America. It is unknown if he will be the starter for the team, as Matt Murray (who played in 31 games for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins last season, eventually finishing out the season as Stanley Cup Champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins) has also been named to the roster. Either way, the North American team is surely one to watch in September.
The Anaheim goalie situation has been nothing short of confusing and to many Ducks fans: a letdown. Nevertheless, the only spot that seems certain is 23-year-old John Gibson, who is bound to be the starter come October. His backup in Anaheim is likely to be Jonathan Bernier, a goaltender acquired in a trade with the Leafs in the offseason who holds a career record of 88-88-23 over 8 seasons. For the Gulls, if the ending of last season was an indication of the level of play; the starting position would appear to belong to Matt Hackett. However, the Ducks recently signed Kevin Boyle to a one-year deal, and Dustin Tokarski looks to rebound from an apparent leg injury that occurred in just his third game with the Gulls last season. Whichever of the three the Ducks feel needs more work will likely get a fair chunk of ice time in Utah for the Grizzlies. The Gulls goaltenders will also now have the opportunity to work with new goaltending coach
Aside from the roster moves, many other changes have come for the Gulls within the front office headlined with the most recent hire/move of former Ducks Director of Marketing and Brand Management to become the Gulls President of Business Operations. He will have large shoes to fill as Ari Segal left the fans shortly after the season to become the new COO of the Arizona Coyotes.
The American Hockey League also made changes regarding fighting such as a “10 fight rule” and an automatic game misconduct for those who drop the gloves after the face off, which has sparked outrage amongst several players including Gulls defenseman (and the 2015-2016 leader in PIM) Stu Bickel, who tweeted in response to the new rules: “[The] 10 fight rule by me, but is a player who needs to stand up for a teammate really less dangerous if he can’t drop the gloves?” While controversial, the debate of the necessity of fighting varies by the fan, with most believing fighting is a part of the sport and one that is enjoyable to the general crowd.
Possibly the most exciting move for traveling die hard fans is that the Arizona Coyotes moved their AHL affiliate at the end of the season to Tucson where the Roadrunners name was reborn. The AHL schedule released yesterday shows that the league wants to build a rivalry between the Roadrunners while continuing the rivalry between the Gulls and Reign, who also face off 12 times this season. The Gulls open their season on Friday, October 14th against the Tucson Roadrunners at Valley View Casino Center for their inaugural game in what should be a sell-out event. Also upcoming in the second season are new matchups against the Iowa Wild, Rockford IceHogs, and the Manitoba Moose, which will be the first team trip to Canada. Individual tickets go on sale August 31st and can be purchased through AXS.com.
Where this all leaves the Gulls fans is in the same position of almost every season of minor league hockey: what are we going to be able to do this season and will we actually get to see some players for a long period of time to develop? The Gulls hope to retain their winning ways improving their franchise record from (43-26-5-3) while the Gulls fans seek to retain their Pacific Division attendance crown. The sport of hockey has just returned to San Diego and fans cannot get enough on-ice action!
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