By Cameron Struyk
The Anaheim Ducks have had an offseason filled with roster moves and while some players are yet to sign with the Ducks, the roster sheet has been finalized. The Gulls and the Grizzlies wrapped up their preseasons this week, both finishing undefeated with records of 2-0. The Gulls roster is practically set in stone while the Grizzlies are soon to be finalizing their roster.
San Diego Gulls
For the Gulls, this is their second year in San Diego and it only seems that hockey is gaining traction in a city that has had an on and off history with the sport. The Gulls led attendance in the newly formed Pacific Division last season and finished second in the league in attendance, and yet smashed revenue records. The Gulls roster is looking much younger than last seasons as many older veteran “goons” like Brian McGrattan and Shane O’Brien have parted ways with the team. Many faces have returned to the Gulls roster (for now), but notable players not on the roster are Nick Ritchie (Ducks), Chris Mueller (Roadrunners), Matthew Bailey (Heat), Anton Khudobin (Bruins), Chris Wagner (Ducks) and Joseph Cramarossa (Ducks). Key players returning include the fan-favorite offensive-defensemen Brandon Montour (who lead the team in assists last season and is likely to see ice time with the Ducks soon), Shea Theodore (who spent quality time with the Ducks last season), Ondrej Kase, Stefan Noesen (who has looked dominant in preseason play with several points) and the goalie tandem in playoff hero Matt Hackett and Dustin Tokarski (who is returning from a season-ending knee injury). No word yet on who will get the start in net for the Gulls this Friday as they open their season against Tucson, though Hackett only saw 10 minutes in preseason play saving 10 of 11, while Tokarski played the entirety of the second game recording 31 saves on 32 shots.
In addition, the Gulls have added former Stanley Cup champion in Jeff Schultz to strengthen the defense and Nick Tarnasky to fill a bruiser role while also stoking offensive firepower. A somewhat new face to the Gulls is Kevin Roy, a 4th round draft pick from 2012, who only appeared in 2 games with the Gulls last season and has looked stellar in camp. Roy played 4 years with Northwestern and recorded 140 points in 130 games. In a one-year stint with the USHL’s Lincoln Stars before college, Roy recorded 104 points in 59 games. Roy got off to a quick start with the Gulls in the preseason games, in which he scored in both games, plus notched an assist in the second game at Honda Center in front of 10,000+ fans.
As for the Anaheim ECHL affiliate The Utah Grizzlies, the team looks to continue their long line of success under head coach Tim Branham in the Maverick Center. The Grizzlies became the Ducks affiliate 4 years ago, and in each of the first three seasons, the team has made it to the Kelly Cup playoffs. The Grizzlies also set a personal attendance record last season averaging just over 5000 fans a game, largely thanks to their newfound success under the Ducks. This season only seems more promising as some of the Anaheim depth has been assigned to the Grizzlies.
The most notable prospect in Utah is 24-year-old goalie Kevin Boyle, who boasted a tremendous career at UMass-Lowell with a record of 42-19-11 with a 2.07 GAA over 2 seasons. In his first game with the Grizzlies, Boyle played the full game recording 27 saves on 29 shots, with one of the goals was on a 5 on 3. Boyle did not play in the second preseason game due to short rest. The team may very well sign 3 goalies, as a 26-year-old fan favorite Ryan Faragher was resigned in the offseason, 24-year-old Ryan McKay out of Miami Ohio University performed well with a sensational performance last night with 33 saves on 34 shots, and of course, Boyle being the promising prospect mentioned previously. Unlike the NHL, ECHL team rosters can only have 20 players (21 in the first 30 days of the regular season). The AHL has no set limit on players on the roster, but can only dress 18 skaters and 2 goalies on any given night, and may only have 6 “veterans.” Anything can happen in the AHL/NHL with goalies as we saw last season, so it is likely that an additional goalie may be added for those first 30 days where ECHL rosters are allotted the extra space. It is also important to note that both goalies in San Diego (Tokarski and Hackett) have suffered season-ending injuries in their young careers.
On the offensive front, left winger Jordan Samuels-Thomas is another player to watch with the Grizzlies. He made his debut last night in the Grizzlies 2-1 OT win over Idaho and tallied an assist on a Mike Banwell goal in the first period. Samuels-Thomas played in 58 games with the Ontario Reign last season, tallying 22 points and a 12+/-. Samuels-Thomas was all over the ice last night winning faceoffs and saw plenty of action with the puck. He was in Gulls’ camp throughout last week, and with an injury above or excellent performance, he could very well see ice time with the Gulls later in the season.
A few key players to watch with the Grizzlies for the sake of ECHL hockey are players who dawned the “A” in the preseason in Mathieu Aubin and Mike Banwell. Banwell found the net off the Samuels-Thomas pass last night while Mathieu Aubin (who missed all of last season due to an injury) scored his first goal since last preseason in what was the OT winner. Also, note Erik Higby is back with the Grizzlies for his second season, he was 5th in scoring last season for the team and played in 64 games. Higby is the best-returning scorer from last season as players like Charles Sarault, Alexander Krushelnyski, and Matt Berry has departed. Defensemen Evan Stoflet will also be adding to his Grizzlies tenure and is likely to be a leader on and off the ice as he has been with the team for a few seasons now. Veteran defenseman Eric Springer has also been acquired to add to the Grizzlies defense. Ultimately, any of the Utah players may spark and rise in the ranks or be needed in San Diego during the course of the season. 9 players from the Grizzlies roster last year were called up to San Diego during the season, including two players who remain with the Gulls today in Matt Hackett and Andrew O’Brien.
There is a lot of hope for the Anaheim Ducks this season, and perhaps starting the season not as the “team to beat” may help as they are not expected as much. Coaching changes up top most notably in Randolph Carlyle’s return leads to high hopes for some, but doubts for others. We will see if GM Bob Murray has finally found the key to victory to get the Ducks back into the mix as the Ducks kick off their season Thursday, while the Gulls play at home Friday versus the newly relocated Tucson Roadrunners (Coyotes affiliate) for a newfound “Interstate Eight Rivalry”, while the Utah Grizzlies open at home in the growing rivalry with the Idaho Steelheads (Stars affiliate). For now, the Gulls will have a little fun tonight with a free Gulls vs Gulls scrimmage at Valley View Casino Center with an autograph session directly after.
Last season the entire Ducks organization (NHL, AHL, ECHL) made it to the playoffs, and only time will tell if we can repeat that success.
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