By Thomas Harrington
Today the San Diego Gulls and Ontario Reign will renew their rivalry. The two teams, affiliates of the Ducks and Kings, don’t like each other. Neither team has a deep history, having only been around for two years, but they have a strong dislike for each other. For Ontario, it will be a chance for the team to get back to the top of the AHL, a spot the Kings’ affiliate reached back when they were the Manchester Monarchs as the Calder Cup Champions in the 2014-15 season. For San Diego, it’s a chance at redemption as Ontario eliminated San Diego a year ago in the second round of the playoffs. The best of five series should be an intense one.
In net, both teams have some solid options. The Gulls have Jhonas Enroth, a mid-season acquisition who has lit the AHL on fire since joining San Diego. He has a record of 14-4 with the Gulls, along with a goals against average of 1.73 and a save percentage of .936. If Enroth gets injured, the Gulls have two solid options behind him, veteran Dustin Tokarski and rookie Kevin Boyle. Tokarski played 27 games for San Diego this season, tops among Gulls’ goalies, and was solid most nights. Boyle was a free agent signing from a year ago, and the plan was to have him in the ECHL for most of the season. However, injuries in Anaheim and San Diego forced his callup to the AHL, where he went 10-5-1-1, had a goals against average of 2.27, and a save percentage of .924. Depending on what happens this summer, he’ll likely be in San Diego on a full-time basis next season.
The Reign have Jack Campbell, a first round pick from the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He was taken one spot before the Ducks selected Cam Fowler. He’s never been able to establish himself in the NHL, but has very good numbers in the AHL, posting a goals against average of 2.52 and a save percentage of .914 in 52 games. Campbell is the only real option in net for Ontario, as Jeff Zatkoff was second on the team with eight games played this season.
Anaheim’s system is full of good, young defensive talent from the NHL to the minors to the junior levels. Coming into the season, it was seen as one of the Gulls’ strengths. However, their two best defensemen will likely miss most of, if not the entire first round of the playoffs and possibly more, as Brandon Montour and Shea Theodore have both found a home in Anaheim while the Ducks deal with injuries on defense. With those two players unavailable, Andy Welinski, Keaton Thompson, Jaycob Megna, Jeff Schultz, Nate Guenin, and Brian Cooper will likely see a majority of the minutes on San Diego’s blueline. While none are future top pairing players like Theodore and Montour could be, it’s a nice collection of young talent and seasoned veterans. Welinski leads that group with 29 points in his rookie season, and Megna wasn’t far behind with 27. Also, the Gulls could get help from Jacob Larsson, as his team in the SHL was recently eliminated.
Similar to San Diego, Ontario doesn’t have any game breaking talent on its roster, but they do have some good players. Vincent LoVerde led Ontario’s defense with 35 points, a career high for him. After LoVerde, the Reign have Cameron Schilling, Zach Leslie, Kurtis MacDermid, Paul LaDue, and Alex Lintuniemi. Not exactly a collection of future NHL stars, but it’s a solid bunch and they will do their best to make life hell for San Diego’s forwards.
The Gulls have a nice collection of young and veteran talent at forward this season. While some players have struggled with injuries, it’s given others a chance to step up and show what they can do. Offensively, the team is led by Corey Tropp who finished the season with 54 points. After him, Kalle Kossila, Kevin Roy, Antoine Laganiere, and Jordan Samuels-Thomas round out the top five scoring forwards. New acquisitions Max Gortz, Spencer Abbott, Sam Carrick, Austin Ortega, Mitch Hults, Deven Sideroff, Giovanni Fiore, and Tyler Soy help give this team a lot of offensive depth. Also, Nic Kerdiles and Nick Sorensen both missed significant time with injuries this season, but both look healthy and ready to go for the playoffs. A number of these forwards are first or second year players and have come a long way this season, with Kossila and Roy being the two most impressive rookie forwards on San Diego’s roster this year. The Gulls have another dangerous forward in their group, Ondrej Kase. He’s spent most of the year in Anaheim but has been back and forth between the two clubs in recent weeks. With Anaheim sweeping Calgary, he’s been assigned to San Diego to get playing time. He’s played in 14 games with San Diego this season and has scored six goals and 12 points. Depending on when the second round starts and what the Ducks need, he could see playing time with both teams throughout the postseason.
The Reign’s top five scoring forwards are T.J. Hensick, Jonny Brodzinski, Mike Amadio, Teddy Purcell, and Brett Sutter. Similar to the Gulls, it’s a nice collection of talent who could make their way to the NHL on a full time basis over the next couple of seasons. They also have one of Los Angeles’ top offensive prospects: Adrian Kempe. He only had 20 points in the AHL this season, but when he was called up to the NHL he scored six points in 25 games. His experience with the Kings could make him a very dangerous player for the Reign in the postseason. Michael Mersch is another of the Kings’ better forward prospects who also has NHL experience. While neither Kempe nor Mersch were among Ontario’s top five scorers this season, they will definitely be two players to watch in this series. Ontario has also made a recent addition to their roster in signing forward Keegan Iverson, who scored 70 points in 55 games in the WHL last season
The season series
The Gulls and Reign faced each other 12 times over the course of the regular season, and the Gulls won six of those games. Most of the games were one or two goal affairs. Ontario shut the Gulls out twice, while San Diego shut the Reign out once. Two games ended in overtime, and two more went all the way to the shootout. These are two heavy teams that throw a lot of hits, get in a lot of fights, and score a good number of goals, and the regular season was full of that and more. Expect a close, physical series.
A year ago, the Gulls rolled over the Texas Stars in the first round, defeating them in a four-game series to advance to the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. The Gulls ran straight into the Ontario Reign, one of the AHL’s best a season ago, and it only took Ontario five games to send San Diego home. This year, the Gulls will be looking for redemption after last year’s loss. Both teams were excellent at home, and pretty good on the road. With home ice advantage in this series, the Gulls need to make sure they take care of things in San Diego. The best of five series begins this Friday in San Diego, game two will be on Saturday in Ontario, and game three will be a week from Friday back in San Diego. If needed, game four will be on May 1st in Ontario and game five will be on May 2nd in San Diego.
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April 21st, 2017