Playoff diary: Gulls focus on discipline ahead of first set of rounds
May 2, 2022
By AJ Manderichio/SanDiegoGulls.com
Great moments come from great opportunity.
The words of legendary hockey coach Herb Brooks rang out on THE RINKS – Poway ICE on a Monday morning as the San Diego Gulls continued their preparations for their 2022 Calder Cup playoff first-round series against rival Ontario Reign.
“Yeah, I think it’s a good time for us,” attacking Gulls Hunter Drew said after the skate. “As you said, everybody’s coming back and everybody’s starting to be healthy at the right time. I think, well not just me, we all think we can beat Ontario and we don’t have not afraid to play them or who they are. We have good training and a good crew here who can go far here.
The Gulls enter the playoffs as the seventh — and final — Pacific Division playoff team. The team earned their spot on a strong second-half push, parting ways with the Tucson Roadrunners and San Jose Barracuda to reach the playoffs for the fifth time in the team’s seven-year history. By removing the canceled COVID-19 season, San Diego has made the playoffs in five of six seasons.
Their reward: a meeting with the team ranked second in the division, an Ontario team that finished the regular season with 41 wins.
“Well, it’s no secret that they’re a good team, obviously,” the Gulls head coach said. Joel Bouchard mentioned. “The thing with the AHL, the roster is going to change so much that you play them through the season, you watch clips that the player they had or they didn’t have and now they’ve come back from the NHL and the like So it’s just a combination of getting ready to do what you have to do and making sure you know a good team on the other bench and you have to be task oriented on that they do because they are good.”
The Reign came out on top in the 12-game regular season series, winning nine meetings. That includes a perfect 6-0-0-0 record at Toyota Arena, which hosts all three first-round games. San Diego is the designated home team in Game 2. The Gulls enjoyed success in the second half of the season, with notable performances including Olle Eriksson Ek’s first career shutout in the American Hockey League on March 12 and a 5-1 win on March 26.
Drew led the team in scoring against Ontario, recording 6-5 = 11 points in the season series.
“I don’t want to say too much, but they have some good players that I think you just focused on,” Drew explained. “Obviously they’re a deep team – they have four lines and three sets of defense that can play. I think we just have to match their speed and play to our strengths rather than theirs.”
As cliché as it sounds, the key to beating Reign is disciplined effort. The Gulls feel they played even with the even-strength reign, but saw special teams dominate the regular-season series. Ontario posted a showy 11-for-42 (26.2%) power play, beating San Diego’s 4-for-38 (10.5%) effort. The Reign finished the regular season with 27.5% of their human advantage chance.
“They were very good on the power play, then we had good moments in pk (pealty kill) and moments where we learned the hard way that they were good,” Bouchard said. “So it’s a matter of playing physical, but staying a bit within the rules of hockey. The playoffs are a different style of hockey, though. I think we all know it’s intense, it’s physical. It’s just the ones that are unruly where, you I know, emotion gets the better of you and we have to be careful. I trust guys and I believe in process.
The Gulls received reinforcements this weekend, as the Anaheim Ducks assigned four players to the team for its playoffs. Drew returned, joined by fellow right-winger Boyfriend Robinson and defenders Trevor Carrick and Simon Benoit. Drew was second on the team in goals (17) and third in points (17-21=38).
Carrick was second among team defensemen in goals (10), assists (20) and points (10-20=30). His three power-play goals led all San Diego defensemen. Benoit spent most of his season in the National Hockey League, recording 1-4=5 points and 22 PIM in 53 games with the Ducks. He returns to San Diego with 7-36=43 points with 104 PIM and plus-35 in 160 games with the Gulls.
“Well, we had a chance to get a few guys back from the NHL, which is always nice, so it’s just a throwback to what’s really important in the playoffs, but against Ontario as well,” said explained Bouchard. “You’re right – we’re focusing on a few areas of the game where we have to make sure we’re really good and the right teams are going to throw something at you and we have to be ready for anything. Although they’re a good team, we don’t need to be on our heels.
“We’re going to be on our toes and playing, so there was a combination of both today. Like you said, I think guys are anxious. The playoffs are fun – that’s why you play and at the end of the day we haven’t really had a playoff in the last few years because of COVID with most players and staff. It’s fun to see it again.
DREW REFLECTS ON NHL EXPERIENCE
Drew returned to San Diego after taking an incredible professional step by appearing in his first (and second) NHL games last week.
As the Ducks’ season drew to a close, the defender-turned-forward earned himself an opportunity with the big club. He made his debut against the San Jose Sharks on April 26, a 5-2 victory for the Ducks. He also appeared in the team’s final regular season game, a 4-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on April 29. He didn’t score in those two matches, but recorded his first professional fight, a fiery fight with Jonah Gadjovich.
Drew recounted receiving the life-changing call after practice today.
“I was actually sleeping, to be honest,” he said with a laugh. “The power was here in Poway, so I went back to bed for a bit. I checked my phone; it was (Anaheim Ducks assistant general manager) Jeff Solomon who said, ‘Please call -me.’ Obviously, I called him and got the news. I was pretty excited.”
The Kingston, Ont., native immediately called his parents to share the good news.
“They gave up everything to put me in a position to be here today, in every aspect,” Drew said. “I think I definitely owed them the first call, and I wouldn’t be here without them. I’m glad we all found out together.”
His parents didn’t make the trip to San Jose but met the team in Dallas. With his dad’s love for the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys, the right-winger joked that he probably circled that date long before they knew Drew would be joining the Ducks.
The opportunity is one that Drew earned through his play this season. From a summer transition from the blue line to the attacking group to becoming a constant offensive weapon, Drew steadily rose through the ranks to achieve his goal – a chance to play for the team that drafted him in the sixth round of the draft. 2018 NHL.
“It’s huge for me, in terms of confidence,” he said. “Not just so I can come next year and know I can play in the NHL. I feel like I can come out and make a difference. Now it’s the playoffs here in the American League, and Trev (Trevor Carrick) and I was talking about back and forth from Anaheim, and he said sometimes the playoffs can make a guy’s career you win, have a good streak and a good run, and that can give you so much more opportunities in your career.
“Obviously you play the game to be a champion. Everybody wants to win. Any time you can put yourself in a position to win and get the confidence of something like that, that’s huge.”