In advance of the game, several players and coaches were made available to the media this week. Asked about finally making the trip away from SoCal and into their new home at the Valley View Casino Center, head coach Dallas Eakins said, “it’s been busy that’s for sure, but being up with the Anaheim Ducks at training camp there and being around the NHL players has been great for our guys,” but he said the time outside of San Diego has taken a toll on the guys. “It has left us with very limited time and has left us with players scrambling to get into their homes, get their families settled and at the same time get ready for our home opener.”
The team has only four days to adjust to their new home and get to know their teammates after reassignments and a rotating training camp roster.
Goaltender John Gibson, the Ducks top prospect, who played 23 games for the big club last season, will start the season in the AHL, as he was assigned to San Diego on October 5. However, he said he wasn’t about to let the reassignment get him down. “I’m just going to play hockey, it’s what I am here to do. Obviously everybody wants to be in the NHL but I’m here and it’s where I am going to play,” noted the young netminder.
Gibson added he is ready to bring his experience to the team and take on that leadership role if needed, “I am going to play my game and try to keep everybody calm and hopefully provide a comforting presence back there and help them win some games.”
Anaheim’s 2014 first round draft pick, forward Nick Ritchie, who spent last season in the OHL, was excited to be playing at the professional level, but knows he has some adjustments to make. “Junior hockey is a lot different than pro hockey,” remarked the former Sault Ste. Marie Greyhound. “I got to see a little of that in the exhibition so far and I will have some time for adjusting for sure.”
Veteran players are not lacking on the Gulls roster either, with forwards like Brian McGrattan and defensemen Shane O’Brien joining Harry Zolnierczyk, who came to the team after spending time with the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders organizations.
“I am excited, we have got a handful of older guys here and it will be exciting to mentor some of these guys, but at the same time we are still trying to find ways to improve our game and obviously working to get back to the big league,” Zolnierczyk said.
One resonating theme around the locker room this week has been the team’s excitement related to bringing hockey back to San Diego. All the players were aware of the city’s enthusiasm and the fact that tickets to games were selling out quickly. Coach Eakins, who played in San Diego “many moons ago,” said he expects local fans to wrap their arms around the team and embrace them quickly. “We want fans to have fun, have fun and be loud,” he said, and that those fans excitement will “inspire us, and in in turn, we hope we will inspire the fans right back.”
MORE GULLS COVERAGE: AHL: San Diego Gulls Hockey Fest Report
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