Where we last left the Gulls they had dropped two in a row against teams in lesser points positions, in games that they desperately needed to win. They lost their star rookie defender to injury and suffered from an overall lack of effort over their past few games. This lead to an almost unprecedented move, one that could determine a season but that also needed to be made.
San Diego Gulls 2 - Ontario Reign 3
San Diego headed to Ontario without a few of their regulars. As it was announced via the Gulls in Flight podcast the night before that Kevin Roy, Mitch Hults and Julius Nattinen would be a healthy scratch in what can best be described as a message sent by coach Dallas Eakins. A move that one can only assume required him to need a wheelbarrow to transport his testicles into the arena that night. Alex Dostie and Deven Sideroff were re-inserted back into the lineup in their place. Sideroff had not seen game time in over 3 weeks. The speedy Austin Wagner, who had been causing the Gulls trouble all season with his speed, drew a penalty early in the first by blowing by Schultz and Oleksy, forcing Schultz to take him down. The Reign converted a minute later when Sutter got a reverse redirect that trickled through Boyle. Then Dostie went to the box for slashing and the Reign again capitalized to make it 2-0 with under 5 minutes left in the opening period. The Gulls were already noticeably providing a better effort than in previous tilts, playing with more hustle and heart. It seemed only a matter of time before they would end their offensive cold streak. Five minutes into the middle frame Corey Tropp did just that, converting a nice cross ice pass from Carrick on the Power Play to make it 2-1. But just over a minute later Kevin Boyle was fooled by a high blast that he saw all the way but somehow was unable to glove. Then Austin Wagner took exception to Steve Oleksy being a bit tight on him and learned the hard way that maybe he should just stick to being fast.
Oleksy vs. Wagner #LetsGoGulls pic.twitter.com/Zks94Sks9I— San Diego Gulls (@SDGullsAHL) April 7, 2018
Less than a minute into the 3rd Kalle Kossila brought the Gulls back within 1 again with a timely score - again with man advantage. Kossila was trying to regather a deflected shot in front when it deflected in past Cal Peterson to bring the Gulls back within 1. The rest of the game was all Gulls, but in their overzealous effort to get the tying goal they took several penalties, at one point needing to kill a 50 second 5 on 3. The additional penalties essentially killed any chance at momentum and the Reign took this one at home.
San Diego Gulls 3 - Ontario Reign 2
With Nattinen and Hults still scratched but Kevin Roy making his return the Gulls came out flying. They outshot the Reign through all three periods, totaling 47 shots on goal, executing on 2 out of 6 power plays and killing all 5 penalties faced. Corey Tropp (who else?) opened the scoring less than 4 minutes in with a beauty between the legs move in front of the Reign net.
So. Filthy. pic.twitter.com/LaD8MwLCO0— San Diego Gulls (@SDGullsAHL) April 10, 2018
The Reign tied things up 7 minutes later when veteran “on loan from the Sabres” Matt Moulson was allowed to tee up a shot from alone in the slot that went high glove on Boyle. Just over 2 minutes into the middle frame Kalle Kossila got his 19th on the Power Play as he came in from the left wing and flung a wrist shot high and from a very severe angle past Reign goaltender Scott Wedgewood. 6 minutes later Kossila placed a perfect area pass into the Reign zone that Kevin Roy chased down and made no mistake beating Wedgewood for the 2 goal lead. Then things got a little testy, which was well overdue and not at all unexpected given the opponent. Giovanni Fiore dropped the gloves for his first pro fight, taking on brother of Malcolm and PK, Jordan Subban in a scrap that he started out well in but then needed to possibly reconsider his decision. Still good to see the kid is engaged and willing to thrown down. The Reign made things interesting when they held the Gulls zone and Reign forward Sean Walker fired a shot past Boyle from the high slot to bring them back within one. But the Gulls ultimately held on for the much needed and well deserved emotional win. The victory bringing their “number” to just 1 point needed out of their 3 remaining games against the division leading Tuscon Roadrunners.
San Diego Gulls 0 - Tuscon Roadrunners 4
In their final regular season home game of the season the Gulls did all that they could to take control of their own destiny; they out-shot the Roadrunners 13-10 in the first frame including numerous scoring chances. One an empty net opportunity that hopped on Carricks stick at the moment of truth and another a buzzer beater that did not apparently beat the buzzer from noted clutch Jedi master Keifer Sherwood. The Gulls continued to pour it on in 2nd period, putting on an impressive display despite being vastly outgunned by the heavily stacked Tucscon roster (Arizona made a few deals at the deadline to ensure the Roadrunners a long playoff run to give experience to their recent glut of high first rounders) but Tuscon turned the tables and capitalised on mistakes. The first coming when Roy and Sherwood could not connect on a play down-low which lead to a rush the other way and the opening score for Conor Garland. Tuscon would add another less than 10 minutes later from the “should be in the NHL” Lawson Crouse. Crouse would eventually take first star honours with his straight Gengis Kahn-esque domination of the ice. Tuscon are +26 in the 3rd and it showed, outshooting the Gulls 19-7 and netting another 2 (one with the empty net) to take this one 4-Zip. It should be noted that Jacob Larsson returned from injury for this game, he had missed the previous 3 games with a lower body injury. Mitch Hults also returned from missing 2 games as a healthy scratch, he replaced the injured (again) Jo Blandisi in the line-up.
Thoughts and Observations:
About A Boyle
Kevin Boyle has had the net since Gibson went down with his most recent injury and but for that one goal that he looked a little surprised on in Ontario, has been his usual brilliant, calm and consistent self. He currently sits 9th overall among goaltenders for Save Percentage with 0.922, with Reto Berra sitting 6th with 0.925. He is also 10th overall in shots against, seeing 1125 shots in 34 games and is 19-12-2 on the season. The way the organisational depth sits right now and what with the recent 3 year entry level deal securing 2017 5th rounder Olle Eriksson Ek, I think it is safe to say that should the Ducks choose to give Boyle another year deal - he would sit 3rd on the the depth chart.
It has been a pretty good season for the Gulls best rookie forward, albeit a streaky one. The Laval native has 30 points in 62 games and has 18 goals to put him 17th overall among rookie goal scoring. He is the only rookie on the team to have played in all 62 games so far, with the remaining cast all missing games either to injury or healthy scratch.
Where Is The Cavalry?
Much like last season the Gulls will not be able to look to their parent club for help down the stretch with the Ducks securing a playoff spot in the final week of the season. But unlike last season, the sudden influx of black aces has not arrived. Last year the Gulls were joined by Max Jones, Austin Ortega, Alex Dostie, Jack Kopacka and Deven Sideroff by seasons end. This year they have only had recent collegiate signings Keifer Sherwood and Chris Forney join them. Where are the Juniors? Well...
Too Busy At The Front
If you haven't already; now is the time of year to give the brilliant @DucksProspects a follow so that you can keep up to date with all of the Ducks current prospects in their respective playoff action. Currently the Anaheim club has 7 players all playing in the 2nd/3rd round of their respective CHL leagues playoff series. All but Steel and Mahura, whose Regina team bowed out early in the first round to preserve their strength for the Memorial Cup for which their club is host.
Jack Kopacka: Kopacka and the heavily favored Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds easily swept their first round match up with the Saginaw Spirit. They are currently tied 2-2 in their second round series with the Owen Sound Attack. The Michigan native has 6 points in 8 playoff games including 4 goals.
Max Jones: Jones was traded from London to the Kingston Frontenacs at the OHL trade deadline, joining Kings 2017 1st rounder Gabriel Vilradi. He has had an injury plagued season after coming very close to making the Ducks out of camp to start this season. After recovering from a hand injury he has played 3 games in the playoffs thus far, scoring 1 goal & notching up 10 penalty minutes. He has been described by his coach as being the energy that helped his team come back to tie their series 2-2 after being down by 2 games. His Frontenac's now lead their series 3-2.
Antoine Morand: The 5’10” childhood friend of Max Comtois has quietly had an impressive season. Totaling 76 points in 66 games for the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, setting career highs in all three points categories. In the playoffs he has kept up the pace, scoring 8 points in 10 games. The Titan beat Chicoutimi in 6 games in the opening round and have just swept the Sherbrooke Phoenix to advance to the conference finals. It seems inevitable that his Titan will meet Comtois Tigres in the next round.
Maxime Comtois: The surprise steal of the 2017 2nd round, Max Comtois has looked near unstoppable (except for a concussion suffered by a cheapshot earlier in the season) ending the season with 85 points in 54 games. He finished 5th overall in the league in scoring, 2nd on his team behind Columbus 2016 3rd rounder Vitali Abramov. His Victoriaville Tigres are currently up 2 games to 1 on Drummondville and Comtois has 6 points in 7 games. He missed game 2 of the series due to a suspension received for boarding. Good to know the incident earlier in the season has not dampened his ability to mix things up.
Josh Mahura: Mahura has hyped expectations by exploding for 69 points in 60 games in his final season in the WHL. The 6’1” speedy defender is drawing comparisons to Brandon Montour but (as I stated earlier this season and I still stand by it) I think he could be better. It should also be noted that he only just missed the cut for the Canada WJC roster earlier this year. His Regina Pats bowed out in 7 games in the first round but will see action again in the Memorial Cup by virtue of being automatic entries as hosts. Mahura has 5 points in 7 games in the postseason.
Sam Steel: Similarly Steel has had a banner year, though not quite the insane 131 points in 66 games of last season. Steel has put up 83 points in 54 games while captaining the Regina Pats to a playoff spot from a wildcard position. It would be the perfect ending to an incredible story were he to lead his Pats to a memorial cup championship. He has 11 points in 7 games these playoffs.
Tyler Soy: Soy needed to go back to Victoria and prove to the Ducks brass that he was worth a contract and he may have done just that. The 6’0” center put up career highs in goals, assists and points as an overager. All in all he scored 92 points in 66 games, finishing 13th overall in scoring. His Victoria Royals came back from 3-2 in their series to beat the Vancouver Giants in 7 games, he had a hat-trick in one game played in the postseason so far but left that game with an upper body injury suffered in a net front scrum. The Royals were just eliminated in a 2nd round sweep so look for him to make his way to Anaheim for further assessment on his injury and to hopefully/possibly help the Gulls if possible on an ATO.
Kyle Olson: You could be forgiven for forgetting about Olson, with all the hype that followed Comtois and to a lesser-extent Morand around this year. The 2017 4th rounder didn't exactly light the league on fire in his post draft year but that is because he missed a large chunk of time to start the season with a serious injury. He put up 18 points in 34 games and currently has 4 points in 4 games for the Tri-City Americans in the playoffs, he is - like Soy, out with an injury right now; but his Tri-City Americans just swept Soy’s Royals so he lives to potentially see action in the next round.
Holzer Is Back!?
Just when the Gulls were not expecting any further help, the Anahiem Ducks inexplicably put Korbinian Holzer on waivers the morning of Game 1 of their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff campaign. Which could possibly mean a lot of things. 1. They like Welinski better. 2. Bieska is ready (oh no). 3. They think Holzer needs game time to keep him playoff ready should they need him later. Either way, 2 of those 3 scenarios are good news for the Gulls. With Larsson back it means they can sit either Cooper or Thompson for Holzer and bolster that 3rd pair for their final 2 regular season games.
Win And You Are In
The Gulls have two regular season games left. Tonight and tomorrow, both against the Roadrunners in Tucson. If they get at least a point they are in the playoffs. If the chasing bunch of San Jose or Stockton drop a point, the Gulls are in. Those are the basic scenarios. There are other more complicated outcomes than that but I won’t explain them here, give Craig Elsten a follow. He has all the right scenario explanations to appease.
Two games left, make or break. Lets go Gulls!