A new season of Meanwhile On the Farm is upon us! I wish I had better news to bring you to start... but I really don’t! Sorry!
The Gulls are 0-3 to start the season and it has not been pretty. Kiefer Sherwood is their current leading scorer with four points in three games, and if that doesn't give you an idea of the state of affairs then I will do my best to give further insight below.
First off, you can read my full game recaps here.
In a nutshell, the Gulls have looked like a completely different team from last season.
Which they essentially are.
Here is the line-up the Gulls iced for their final playoff game May 27th in which they were eliminated by the Chicago Wolves in the Conference Finals.
Here is the line-up the Gulls iced in their most recent loss at Stockton.
They lost five of their starting defencemen and two forwards from almost all four lines.
Turnover happens in developmental leagues and this is the start of the Gulls’ next cycle as the Ducks attempt to blood the next wave of pro-eligible prospects. Sure it is painful to watch, and sure they probably won’t win a whole lot to start, but it is still valuable learning experience for the players just starting their professional careers.
It also helps to identify some potentially under-rated standouts such as Jack Kopacka - who has had a very strong start to the season, culminating in his first goal of the year on a beautiful backhander in the most recent defeat.
News and Notes:
Expectations; or how I should know better. As illustrated in the above paragraph, it really shouldn't be panic stations for the San Diego faithful. This team has gone through an over 70% turnover of their personnel. We should not be so hard on their not being as quite up to speed as their clearly more in-sync opponents. But at the same time, I had some foolhardy high hopes for the start of this season given some of the off-season signings that were made to fill some of the holes left by those that departed. What I have seen from these acquisitions thus far have not entirely impressed me, but I realize that I do need to temper initial presumptions given it has only been three games.
Starting in Net... I initially made the call in my season preview at Defend The Nest that I had expected that Kevin Boyle would get the start in net to begin the season, but I was wrong on that. After three games I need to proffer an apology to Anthony Stolarz for doubting his ability based on his previous injury history (hmmm seems a familiar trope attributed to a certain Ducks goaltender). The 25-year old Stolarz has been the sole reason the Gulls have not been completely blown out of the two games in which he started, routinely keeping them in it until ultimately costly breakdowns or mistakes would eventually cost them. His ability to execute perfect post-to-post saves on a cross-ice pass has stood out to me the most so far, mostly because he has made the exact same difficult save multiple times in a single game. Kevin Boyle - getting his first state in the most recent loss - was also his usual calm self; his style is worlds different from Stolarz, but I can see the two complimenting each other very well if the team can get on a roll.
Skipping the D to the Forwards... For the first week of the season the Gulls are tied with the Rockford IceHogs (Chicago) for last in the AHL in goals for with just five. It isn’t hard to figure the reason they haven't won yet is they have not been able to get the puck in the net, managing to get only one apiece in their first two games. A positive sign was breaking through with three in the last game against Stockton, but as noted in my introduction Kiefer Sherwood has two of those, Kopacka, Poturalski and Drew have the other three. I’ll speak on Drew later, but this gives me an opportunity to point out that Daniel Sprong, the former second round pick of the Penguins who had 65 points and 32 goals in 2017-2018 for the Wilkesbarre-Scranton Penguins has just one point in three games. Right from his first interview before the Gulls first game, I could tell he did not seem completely committed to the regime. Using words like “They” and “those guys” when referring to his own team and on the ice, he has only been noticeable when rushing the puck - which no doubt he is very good at - but never eventuates in a scoring opportunity as he never looks for a team-mate when he begins to run out of room. I really do hope he can pick it up and jell with the team, but initial viewings have me concerned.
Right, back to the D... As mentioned, Hunter Drew has one of the Gulls’ five goals scored so far, and it was an absolute CANNON of a wrist shot. He played the first game paired with Patrick Sieloff, but has since been paired with Simon Benoit for the last two games, and I hope Coach Kevin Dineen sticks with that pairing as the two have clear chemistry and could develop into a nice all-round pairing similar to that of Josh Manson and Hampus Lindholm. He appears to have already been designated Public Enemy No. 1 on some teams’ radars given he was the victim of a nasty center ice collision in the first game against Bakersfield; he was able to return to action by the next period thankfully. Jani Hakanpaa has looked like he is getting more acquainted to the North American game, even making a rush or two every now and then; overall I have not been dissapointed in his play.
Meanwhile in the ECHL... Devon Sideroff, Steven Ruggiero and Olle Eriksson Ekk were assigned to Tulsa while Roman Durny was assigned to the Norfolk Admirals to start the season. Durny has yet to see game time for the Admirals and shares the roster with two veterans. The current starter has previous NHL experience so he may need an injury to happen before he sees any action. Eriksson Ekk joins an already established Tulsa tandem, and although he has managed to see one game thus far (all three goaltenders have played a game each), he has a 5.14 GAA and 0.762 SV% to show for it. Yikes. Ruggiero leads Tulsa defenders in scoring with two points in three games, while Deven Sideroff is off to a hot start and leads the team in scoring with five points in three games; he did lead the league in scoring at one point, but has since been overtaken to be tied for second.
Incoming Cavalry... Isac Lundestrom was re-assigned this week and will look to slot in on the top line alongside Daniel Sprong and Kiefer Sherwood. The 19-year old Swedish center has yet to score in one game with the Gulls. With his joining the roster the Gulls in turn sent Brent Gates Jr. to Tulsa.
The Gulls finally have their home opener against the Stockton Heat tonight at 7pm and have another home game against the Reign the following Friday October 25th before journeying into the Inland Empire to return the favor the next day to close out their games for October. I will update again after those three games have concluded, but you can follow my updates on Twitter and game recaps on DefendTheNest.com.