Fresh in the minds of all returning players and head coach Dallas Eakins is the bad memory of three consecutive losses to the Roadrunners that ended their third season. The team only needed one standings point to make the American Hockey League (AHL) playoffs but failed to do so for the first time in the team's three-year existence.
"This is going to stick with me a long time," said Eakins following his team's elimination. "I cannot remember being this gutted, this disappointed in a very long time."
This year's roster shows familiar names such as Alex Dostie, Joseph Blandisi, Corey Tropp, Giovanni Fiore, Deven Sideroff, Mitch Hurts, Ben Thomson, Logan Shaw, Sam Carrick, Tyler Soy, Andy Welinski, Keaton Thompson, Steve Oleksy, Jaycob Megna (named team captain), Jacob Larsson and goalkeeper Kevin Boyle.
They, along with an assortment of newcomers, will begin the season while some Gulls favorites, such as last year's leading scorer Kalle Kossila (21 goals, 33 assists) heal from injuries.
The team so far has had difficulty putting opponents away after leading games. In an exhibition game last week against Ontario, the Gulls let a 3-0 lead slip away and lost 4-3. In their season opener last Saturday night the Roadrunners scored four unanswered goals in the third period to turn a 4-2 Gulls lead into a 6-4 loss.
Some fans were critical of the Gulls parent team, the Anaheim Ducks, for calling up too many players at last season's end, leaving the team undermanned. But, as Eakins says, the AHL is a developmental league with the purpose of preparing young skaters for eventual National Hockey League rosters.
In fact, the Ducks opened their season last week with five rookies and 24 players with AHL experience. Some of these players are likely to play for the Gulls as injuries to Ducks players heal.
Local fans have developed a passion for the Gulls, who led the now 31-team league in attendance with an average of 9,305.
For tickets and information go to sandiegogulls.com.