Not enough wins but plenty of fun and involvement during hockey season

Photos by Phillip Brents The San Diego Gulls hosted Hockey Is For Everyone Night on March 18 with a sled hockey demonstration featuring disabled and able-bodied athletes and a ceremonial puck drop by Blake Steinecke of the United States National Blind Hockey Team.

The San Diego Gulls, alas, did not qualify for this season’s Calder Cup playoffs. But that doesn’t mean the American Hockey League team’s 2022-23 season was a total bust.

The Gulls did play exciting hockey in stretches and continued, as their primary task, to develop talent for their National Hockey League parent affiliate, the Anaheim Ducks.

On an individual basis, there were some notable accomplishments.

Left wing Pavol Regenda scored the second-fastest goal from the start of an AHL game in club history – 12 seconds – while center Benoit-Olivier Groulx turned in single-season career highs for goals (18), assists (21) and points (39) in 61 games before being called up to the Ducks this week.

The highlight of the season was obviously the inspired play of goaltender Lukas Dostal, who earned co-MVP honors for the Pacific Division all-star team at the midseason AHL Classic Feb. 5-6 in Laval, Quebec, and who is currently on the Ducks’ NHL roster.

Dostal previously made history for the Gulls by scoring a goal from his goaltender position in a game in Loveland, Colo., on March 2, 2022. Besides becoming the first netminder in the history of the Ducks organization to score a goal, he also made 50 saves to pick up the win.

But a franchise-worst 12-game losing streak from Nov. 23 to Dec. 22 pretty much did in the Gulls’ postseason aspirations.

The Gulls were clear winners in other areas, however. The local AHL franchise was big on community involvement this season, and community recognition.

“It was a big focus for us this season to get back out in the community regardless of the team’s on-ice record,” Gulls Director of AHL Communications and Broadcasting A.J. Manderichio said.

The Gulls held their second annual Hockey Is For Everyone Night on March 18 to help raise awareness for diverse groups in hockey as well as drive positive social change and foster more inclusive communities within the sport.

Blake Steinecke of the United States National Blind Hockey Team participated in a ceremonial puck drop before the game while the San Diego Ducks sled hockey team put on an on-ice demonstration between intermissions.

Steinecke, who is visually impaired, represents the United States in international hockey competition. The U.S. national team participated in the International Blind Hockey Series March 24-26 in Toronto, returning with the silver medal following a 5-4 overtime loss to host Canada.

The San Diego Ducks participated in a five-on-five scrimmage during the first intermission. The team, founded by retired U.S. Marine Corps captain Sarah Bettencourt in 2014 after suffering permanent neurological damage, is comprised of disabled and able-bodied athletes ages five and older, including active-duty military and veterans.

Bettencourt, a member of the U.S. Women’s Sled Hockey Team and two-time para-surfing world champion who serves as the team’s director of hockey operations, adult team manager and captain, took part in the scrimmage.

The Ducks program features teams for youth (ages 5-17, nonchecking) and adults (no age requirement, full check) that participate in local recreation play as well as competitive travel events.

The San Diego Gulls Special Hockey Team was honored with a $1,000 donation from the San Diego Gulls Foundation during the game’s community spotlight. The team, accompanied by mascot Gulliver and Gulls Girls cheerleaders, welcomed Gulls players as they skated onto the ice to face off pre-game ceremonies.

Marley Sommer, son of Gulls head coach Roy Sommer, represented all those in the hockey community living with Down Syndrome by singing the National Anthem. A favorite in the Gulls locker room, the younger Sommer received a rousing ovation.

The Gulls previously hosted Mexican Heritage Night on Nov. 5, Military Appreciation Night on Nov. 11, Hockey Fights Cancer awareness night on Nov. 26,

First Responders Night on Dec. 3, Women In Sports Night on Feb. 1 and the seventh annual Pink In The Rink Night on Feb. 10 to promote women’s health initiatives, cancer research and awareness.

The Gulls, who hosted a recent bowling night with the team, have supported youth hockey programs in the region with weekly youth hockey shootout exhibitions between periods. The San Diego Saints from the Kroc Center participated in last Friday’s youth hockey shootout.

The Gulls (20-47-2-1) conclude their 2022-23 schedule with a final pair of regular season games this weekend against the host Colorado Eagles.

The Gulls hosted their final two regular season home games last weekend, dropping a pair of close games (4-2 and 3-2) to the Calgary Wranglers, the team with the best record in the 32-team league, to show there isn’t much that separates top from bottom.