The San Diego Gulls open the 2019-20 season tonight in Bakersfield. While it will be the debut of new head coach Kevin Dineen, it could be the return of familiar faces to the roster that makes the greater impact in the Gulls’ quest to bring the Calder Cup to America’s Finest City.
The 2018-19 season saw the Gulls return to the playoffs after an extremely disappointing 2017-18 campaign, but San Diego’s favorite seabirds again drew large at the gate while falling short in the playoffs, ending their season in the third round of the playoffs after a campaign that tested head coach Dallas Eakins perhaps more than any other. San Diego finished with 80 points, despite suiting up fifty-two skaters an four goaltenders during the season, owing mostly to the injuries and disappointing play up I-5 in Anaheim by the club’s parent, the Ducks.
For 2019-20, the Gulls will have a new head coach for the first time since the club was rebooted in the American Hockey League. Dallas Eakins, who commanded the Gulls’ bench the entire time this iteration has existed, moves to the big club in an entirely expected move. Eakins has done more than just win games in San Diego, he has developed over a third of Anaheim’s current roster, with more Eakins acolytes on the way. Outside of stalwart General Manager Bob Murray, Eakins had become the most prominent voice in the Ducks’ future, and now will be such for their present.
With Eakins in Orange County, that brings Kevin Dineen to America’s Finest City as the second head coach of these San Diego Gulls. Dineen arrives with a similar background to Eakins, being close in age, Dineen slightly older at 55 to Eakins’s 52. Both were journeymen NHL players, and Dineen comes to San Diego as a former NHL head coach, as Eakins was. While Eakins was only head coach of the Edmonton Oilers for eighteen difficult months in the midst of a rebuild, Dineen actually had solid success with the Florida Panthers, capturing the Southeast Division title in 2011-12, but the wheels came off the wagon from there, with Dineen eventually being let go after a rough start to the 2013-14 season.
Dineen is returning the Anaheim Ducks organization, having coached the club’s AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates, from 2005-2008 During that time, Dineen worked under Murray and helped to develop notable Ducks names such as franchise icons Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, as well as Dustin Penner and Bobby Ryan.
While Dineen is a new face to San Diego, it is the familiar faces returning this season who could be the most significant factor in the club’s Calder Cup aspirations. Led by Maxime Comtois, several of the Ducks’ young guns of the future will begin the season back in San Diego, which bodes well for the Gulls after a year of having their top talent sent north on the Pacific Surfliner to fill in gaps in the NHL club’s lines all season.
As it stands tonight, the Gulls will suit up eleven forwards, including Comtois, Sam Carrick, La Mirada native Chase Di Leo, and 2018 1st round pick Isac Lundestrom, who played last year for San Diego. They will return four defensemen, including 2016 3rd round pick Josh Mahura while adding soon to be 21-year-old Hunter Drew, a 2018 6th round pick who had 50 points last season playing for Charlottetown of the QMJHL. In net, the Gulls bring back AHL veteran Kevin Boyle, who went 24-13-2 for the Gulls last season with a 2.90 GAA. Backing him up will be Anthony Stolarz, who spent time with Edmonton and Philadelphia last year.
In four seasons, the Gulls have positioned themselves as a consistent playoff contender, and San Diegans have rewarded them by making them a consistent top draw in the American Hockey League. The Gulls are a large part of the sports fabric in San Diego, which, outsiders may not realize, is a hockey town. When they take the ice tonight in Bakersfield, they will have a new voice behind the bench. Kevin Dineen makes his Gulls debut commanding an exciting blend of prospects and veterans. It could easily be seen as the deepest roster San Diego has had, and it is not unreasonable to have Calder Cup expectations in America’s Finest City.