By Thomas Harrington
Over the final two weeks of the season, the San Diego Gulls played in six games and went 3-3. Overall, the Gulls went 43-20-3 and finished second in the Pacific Division and Western Conference, behind only the San Jose Barracuda. The Gulls will open the Calder Cup Playoffs at home this Friday against the Ontario Reign. Before we get to that, a look at the final two weeks of San Diego’s regular season.
The Gulls started out their final two week stretch of the season by traveling to Stockton and losing 5-3. The Heat took a 2-0 lead early in the first, but Austin Ortega scored his first career goal and Scott Sabourin tied the game up before the period was half over. Stockton and San Diego both scored again before the first was over, with Kalle Kossila scoring San Diego’s goal, and the game was tied at three after the first period. There was no scoring in the second, and Stockton took the lead just minutes into the third. They finished things off with an empty net goal. A couple nights later, the Gulls hosted Ontario and suffered one of their worst home losses of the season, as the Reign won 4-0. Ontario had a 3-0 lead after 40 minutes, and scored their fourth goal into the empty net. After those two losses, the Gulls traveled to Ontario, trying to right the ship, but lost this contest as well. Ontario scored in the first, but Ortega scored his second goal since joining the Gulls to tie things up before the second was over. Early in the third, Ontario went back on top, and scored an empty net goal to get the 3-1 win.
That three game losing streak was one of San Diego’s worst stretches this season, and probably their worst stretch of play in 2017. The primary reason for these poor games: injuries in both Anaheim and San Diego. With Anaheim’s blueline banged up, both Brandon Montour and Shea Theodore were up in Anaheim, one of the few times San Diego was without both of their star blueliners. Given how beat up Anaheim’s defensive core is, it’s likely the Gulls won’t have either of these two when the playoffs begin. For one game, Montour and Theodore weren’t enough, so Jaycob Megna was called up and made his NHL debut. However, even more damaging than losing Megna, Montour and Theodore, were the sheer number of San Diego players who missed at least one of these three games: Andy Welinski, Sam Carrick, Spencer Abbott, Nick Sorensen, and Max Gortz. With so many players injured or in Anaheim, it’s not surprising to see San Diego struggle through these three games.
Thankfully, after dropping three games in a row, the Gulls got back on track to end the season. The Gulls returned home to host Bakersfield, and put together a dominant performance. Keaton Thompson got the scoring going early, but the Condors tied things up before the first was over. In the second, Sorensen was the only player to score, but in the third, San Diego really took over. Kevin Roy scored early, and Antoine Laganiere scored an empty net goal. With a second left to go in the game, Tyler Morley scored San Diego’s fifth goal of the game. Deven Sideroff got an assist on that goal, his first career pro point.
In a playoff preview, the Gulls finished off the regular season with two games against Ontario. The first game was in Ontario, and it was a close game throughout. Mitch Hults opened the scoring with his first career professional goal. Early in the second, Ortega doubled the lead, but Ontario scored twice in the second to tie the game at two after two. Scott Sabourin put the Gulls back on top in the third, but Ontario tied the game up again. The game went to a shootout where Abbott, Roy, and Ortega all scored, giving San Diego a 4-3 win. In the final game of the regular season, San Diego and Ontario gave the San Diego fans a show. The two teams traded goals in the first period, with Roy picking up the Gulls’ goal. In the second, Ondrej Kase and Zac Larraza both scored to give San Diego a 3-2 lead after two. Ontario tied things up early in the third, but less than a minute later, Brian Cooper put the Gulls on top for good. Ortega scored his fourth goal since joining the Gulls, giving San Diego the 5-3 win.
The Anaheim Ducks have had their affiliate in San Diego for two years now, and the second was certainly an exciting ride, as the Gulls put together one of the best records in the AHL. However, they will face a daunting task in the first round of the playoffs and also give the Gulls a chance for some redemption, as it was the Ontario Reign who defeated San Diego in the playoffs a year ago. The Gulls’ run at the Calder Cup starts this Friday. Hopefully, it’ll be a long one.
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April 20th, 2017