As the guy with a more than casual interest in how the Gulls are doing (I listen to their games while doing yard work if they don’t clash with the Ducks, listen to the Gulls In Flight podcast, and follow the Gulls staff on Twitter) I have taken it upon myself to try to do a semi-regular update on our baby ducks down the road.
The Gulls began the season with high hopes - they had just completed a successful inaugural season in the AHL after being absent from the hockey scene since the most recent ECHL incarnation ceased in 2006. They finished second in the league in average attendance in their first year.
Initially the roster was jam packed with talent; if you remember - Larsson had surprised everyone by getting a spot on the Ducks over Theodore and Montour, while Nick Sorenson had also made the Ducks out of camp. The Gulls opening line-up consisted of the likes of Theodore, Montour, Cramarossa, Noesen & Sgarbossa.
Despite the talented line up the team struggled and went 2-3-1 over the first 6 games. Eventually Larsson was sent down and played 4 games before the club ultimately decided it would be better for him to continue playing in Sweden. He had 2 assists and was a -6 before heading back to Europe. Sorenson was also sent down toward the end of October along with the then recently acquired from waivers Emerson Etem. Etem scored a power play goal in his first game with the Gulls in a 6-1 loss to the Flames farm team before suffering a tragic season-ending knee injury. He played just the one game for the Gulls.
Injuries and sickness were a common theme for the Gulls in the month of November - at one point they had only one natural center in the line up. To combat this - GM Bob Ferguson signed former Reign forward Jordan Samuels-Thomas and called up Austen Brassard from the Grizzlies. Both had been in the Winnipeg/Atlanta organization to start their careers. The additions improved the Gulls immensely as they rolled on a franchise record 8-game winning streak that extended well into December after dropping their first two games of November. During this time Sgarbossa was traded for Shaw, who played 2 games before being called up, and Cramarossa had solidified his spot with the Ducks whilst Wagner was demoted. Long-term project prospect Keaton Thompson got a recall due to injuries on the blue line and Shea Theodore’s mid season call-up, he managed to hold his own and has stuck with the Gulls ever since. Last years free agent college signing Kevin Boyle also got a recall when veteran Matt Hacket went down with what would later prove to be a season ending injury and took the opportunity to prove himself - playing in 19 games in total with a 2.27 GAA and 9.24 SVS%.
The rest of December was pretty horrendous. Getting shut out back to back in San Jose by the same 3-0 score to kick off a frustrating 7-game losing streak before breaking through with a win to close out the year with a 4-0 shutout over the Stars affiliate. During this time Ryan Garbutt joined the team - forming a line with Samuels-Thomas that caused some of the smaller opponents in the Pacific a lot of headaches.
January saw the Gulls seem to inherit their parent clubs Jekyl & Hyde inconsistent play, trading wins and loses on a week to week basis; dominating opponents by huge margins and then losing in tight checking games the following night. It also saw Kalle Kossila score this cheeky beaut on Star Wars night.
During this time the Ducks lost Stefan Noessen on waivers when the Ducks tried to return him to the Gulls after a call-up - he has since played 28 games with the Devils scoring 7 points. Hopefully they might some day give up on him and the Ducks can claim him back similar to the Wagner story. The Gulls made a move of their own acquiring Swedish winger Max Gortz for Andrew O’Brien. Gortz and Sorenson are actually childhood best friends so even though the move seemed like a classic “change of scenery” deal for two players that were struggling, the instant familiarity for Gortz has seen him put up 19 points in 28 games with the Gulls. By the end of January the Gulls appeared to be taking back control of their season as they put together a 9-game unbeaten streak, smashing their previous 8 game win streak from November. This was largely aided by the Ducks acquisition of veteran goaltender Jhonas Enroth who posted an insane 0.80 GAA and .969 SVS% in his first five starts with the Gulls. Nate Thompson had also been added to the team on a conditioning loan.
The Gulls continued a separate 6-game win streak to start February before losing in San Jose. A building that seems to give them nightmares, it was noted on the Gulls in Flight Podcast that it may be due to the Sharks and Barracudda sharing the same ice resulting in matinee affairs. Overall they went 9-2 in February - overtaking the Reign for second in the Pacific.
March had similar ups and downs as the Gulls fought to catch the Sharks for the Pacific lead (sound familiar?). They got easy wins over the Coyotes affiliate before dropping tight decisions against the Barracuda. One of the highlights of the season thus far was a wild and woolly 7-6 OT win in which a total 8 goals were scored in the first period alone.
During the month of March, the Ducks lost Joseph Cramarossa to the Canucks on Waivers and the Gulls lost Ryan Garbutt for the season when he underwent season ending shoulder surgery. Both Ducks and Gulls fans were nervous come trade deadline but surprisingly none of the Ducks backlog of blue line talent was moved. Instead the Gulls picked up Spencer Abbott and Sam Carrick from the Rockford Icehogs (the Blackhawks affiliate) for Kenton Helgesen and 7th round pick in 2019. Helgesen - a 2012 7th rounder had been toiling in the ECHL with the Grizzlies unable to crack the Gulls with the Ducks defensive depth. At the time of the trade Abbott was leading the Icehogs with 35 points (and still is according to their team stats) and with 28 points Carrick was not far behind. This is the second time the Ducks have plucked a forward with scoring potential on an expiring contract from the Blackhawks organization in a minor league deal. The Gulls current leading scorer, Corey Tropp, came across last year in a deal for Tim Jackman and a 7th rounder.
We now find ourselves in April and the close of the regular season. The Gulls have clinched a playoff spot but thanks to some further inconsistent play of late have fallen back from San Jose again. They currently sit second in the Pacific with 85 points, 4 points behind the Barracuda and 9 ahead of the Reign.
Due to travel differences and teams playing an unequal number of games in the AHL, standings are based on points percentages. Meaning that the Gulls sit second overall in the Western Conference, ahead of Grand Rapids, Chicago and Milwaukee despite having less points.
The AHL playoffs work as such. The top four teams in each of the AHL’s four divisons (as ranked by points percentage) qualify. 1st plays 4th while 2nd plays 3rd. Home ice is granted to the team with the higher points percentage. At this point the Gulls would play the Reign while the Barracuda would play the Condors. Adding more spice to the pot is the fact that the Gulls face the Reign in 4 of their last 5 games of the regular season starting this weekend. With the Kings recently eliminated that means they have three AHL eligible players they can allocate to the Reign - Adrian Kempe, Paul Ladue and Jonny Brodzinski.
Either way if the Gulls hope to go further in their quest for the Calder Cup, they will still have to go through the Reign. Here is hoping that this year they have the right team to do so.