Gulls Take Flight in One of a Kind Season

Zachary Grover, Sports Editor

   Hockey is alive in San Diego. Hockey is “…a game where you have to have the strength of a football player, the stamina of a marathon runner, and the concentration of a brain surgeon. All while moving at high speed on a cold and slippery surface,” famously stated Former Hockey Player Brendan Shanahan.  

   “[It’s] a fast, full contact game played by men with clubs in their hands and knives laced to their feet,” stated Former Sports Writer Paul Gallico. San Diego Gulls play-by-play Announcer Andy Zilch added his endorsement for the game. “It is the only sport you are allowed to fight in,” he said, laughing. 

   The San Diego Gulls are in the American Hockey League (AHL), or minor league affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks in the National Hockey League (NHL). This season, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Gulls have moved up to Irvine, California and currently play home games and practice at Great Park Ice, the Ducks’ practice facility ( Zilch, who is staying in the mini team bubble, stated that the move made it easier for the Gulls to keep in sync with the Ducks whether it be from a COVID protocol standpoint or out of hockey convenience. “It was all about safety,” Zilch said. “Our team follows NHL COVID protocols with daily tests, morning temp checks, and symptom tracking.” The Gulls hope to return to San Diego as soon as current country COVID restrictions ease, said Gulls President of Business Operations Matt Savant in a recent interview with Zilch. 

   One bright spot during this season, when fans cannot attend games at the arena, is the fact that Gulls fans have had some new and exciting players to watch that normally would have gone straight from lower level hockey to the NHL. Chief among these highly touted youngsters are recent Draft Picks Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale. Zegras was selected with the ninth pick in the 2019 Draft while Drysdale was selected sixth overall in 2020. Drysdale, who is only eighteen, was crowned the AHL Rookie of Month for February. Zegras, not to be outdone, won the AHL Player of the Week award in early February and has had highlight reel goals circulating on social media and around the Internet from his time with the Gulls. Both recently scored their first NHL goals with the Ducks on the same night ( 

   Zilch commented that what happened with Zegras and Drysdale is something he loves a lot about minor hockey. “I love seeing the growth of these players, who will go on to become future stars, before they ‘make it,’” he said. Zilch continued that he thinks the benefits go both ways. “Playing with the Gulls opened up these young prospects’ eyes,” Zilch said. “These young kids are absorbing everything they can from the pro game, on and off the ice.” What kinds of things are they learning? “What you should and shouldn’t eat,” Zilch said. “You can’t just sleep all day, eat In-N-Out, go to practice, and then eat a Five Guys double cheeseburger,” he chuckled. Seems like a valuable lesson. 

   Gulls fans have always been a big part of the experience at a Gulls game, and have played their part in making the Pechanga Arena a tough place for opponents to play, as plenty of Gulls opponents over the years have admitted. According to the American Hockey League official website, the Gulls led the entire AHL in attendance for the previous two full seasons. During the 2017-18 season, the Gulls averaged 9,305 fans per game and 9,021 in 2018-19 ( Senior Katriina Wright shared her experience at a Gulls game. “The atmosphere is amazing, and the loud roar of the crowd just makes the games amazing to watch,” she said. 

   Until the fans are invited back to in-person attendance, all Gulls games can be heard live on the Gulls Official Audio Network on iHeart Radio platforms, or streamed via subscription to the AHL streaming service. Select games will be airing locally on Fox 5 San Diego and the CW San Diego (