By Thomas Harrington
The Calder Cup Playoffs are set to begin soon, and for the second consecutive season, the San Diego Gulls have qualified for the postseason. Over the last two weeks, the Gulls played in five games and had a record of 3-2. Right now, San Diego is pretty much entrenched in the second spot of the Pacific Division. They could climb to the top or fall to third, but the odds are they will finish second in the division when the season concludes.
The Gulls started out their latest two week stretch with a statement win over the San Jose Barracuda, the team directly ahead of them in the standings. Brian Cooper got the scoring started in the first with his third goal of the season. In the second, Shea Theodore took over and scored twice, giving the Gulls a 3-0 lead after 40 minutes. San Jose managed to score once early in the third, but Scott Sabourin and Kalle Kossila both scored to give San Diego a 5-1 win. Dustin Tokarski stopped 36 or 37 shots.
After their big win over San Jose, it looked like San Diego had a legitimate shot of catching the Barracuda. However, the Gulls stumbled in their next two games. The Gulls have been one of the best teams in the AHL since the new year and were due a bad game or two. The Gulls traveled to Bakersfield and were defeated 5-1. Ondrej Kase scored his first goal with the Gulls since being reassigned to San Diego from Anaheim, but that was the primary highlight from this loss. Clayton Stoner played for the Gulls in this game; he was on loan from Anaheim on a conditioning assignment since he hasn’t played any hockey since mid-November. He did get in a fight in this game. The next day, the two teams met up again, this time in San Diego. Bakersfield built a 2-0 lead through the first two periods. Nic Kerdiles scored early in the third to give the Gulls some life, but the Condors struck for a power play goal late in the game to give them a 3-1 victory.
After losing two in a row, San Diego went on the road and played a pair of games in Tucson. The first game saw the Gulls just dismantle the Roadrunners in the first period. Before the opening 20 minutes were over, the Gulls had scored six goals and held a 6-1 lead. Max Gortz, Stoner, Kevin Roy, Andy Welinski, Jordan Samuels-Thomas, and Kossila were the goal scorers for the Gulls in the first. In the second period, the two teams traded goals, as Welinski scored his second of the night for San Diego. In the third, only one goal was scored, and Welinski scored the first hat trick in San Diego Gulls’ history. He doubled his season goal total from three to six in this game. He also had an assist, giving him his first four point night.
The next night, Tucson was looking for revenge and the first period was a much closer affair. With less than five minutes to go in the first, Kerdiles scored the first goal of the game. Austin Ortega was playing in his first game with the Gulls since he signed a tryout agreement with the team and he made a beautiful pass to get his first career point on Kerdiles’ goal. Early in the second, Kase tipped Jeff Schultz’s shot home to give the Gulls a 2-0 lead. Mitch Hults was playing in his second career game with the Gulls and also got an assist on this goal, his first professional point as well. A couple of minutes later, Tucson scored from a bad angle, one of the few bad goals that Jhonas Enroth has given up since joining the team. Halfway through the second, Spencer Abbott scored to restore San Diego’s two goal lead. Late in the third, Abbott scored his second goal of the game, his first two goal game with the Gulls since joining the team at the trade deadline, giving San Diego a 4-1 win. Enroth stopped 30 of 31 shots to get the win. The Gulls went 6-0 in Tucson this season.
The Gulls only have six games left in the regular season. They’ll start their final two week stretch with a visit to Stockton tonight. They’ll then return home to host Ontario, and then travel to Ontario the next night for a weekend series between the two rivals. The Gulls will return home to host Bakersfield and will be looking to avenge their recent losses to the Condors. The Gulls will then have one final road game in Ontario, before returning home for their last home game of the season, hosting the Reign one more time.
As hockey seasons wind down across various levels of college, junior, and European leagues, the Ducks could choose to sign some of their prospects and bring some of them to San Diego to reinforce the Gulls heading into the playoffs. They’ve already signed a number of college free agents to bolster their ranks. Many of the team’s key contributors, including Roy, Welinski, and Kossila, all joined the Gulls at the end of last season. If the Ducks do choose to bring in more players to San Diego, it’s doubtful many will get a lot of playing time down the stretch because of how well the Gulls have been playing. But more depth going into the playoffs is never a bad thing.
With the playoffs around the corner, the focus for the Gulls is on staying healthy and playing well over the next couple of weeks. Winning the games would be nice, but as long as the Gulls can continue their high level of play, they should be ready for start of the Calder Cup Playoffs.
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April 5th, 2017