By Mike Olson
There is negativity looming around San Diego with the possibility of the Chargers moving and the Padres having problems getting to .500, however there is some good news flying under the radar. For the first time since 2006 San Diego will have a ‘AAA” professional hockey team. Born and raised in SD, aside from going to Padres games, Gulls games were the most fun I had, mainly because it was more affordable for my parent to take me. I remember when they had promotional nights where if you brought in canned food you would get in for free. Plus the teams would always get into fights during the game to get noticed by scouts. What’s more exciting as a little kid than watching hockey players fight?
The first Gulls team to play in SD was formed in 1966 as part of the Western Hockey League and would be in existence until 1974. Over those eight seasons they were the affiliate for Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers. The first season was a struggle as they posted a record of 22-47-3, the only season they wouldn’t make the playoffs. The first African American hockey player in the NHL spent parts of over seven seasons with them. His number was retired by the Gulls after he played until he was 43. After the ’74 season the Gulls were gone and replaced by the San Diego Mariners.
SD wouldn’t see the Gulls until the team was rebirthed and became part of the International Hockey League, where they were affiliates for the New York Rangers and the Anaheim Ducks. In the ‘93 season the Gulls finished first in the league and set an IHL record for most points (132). They reached the Turner Cup Finals but got swept. After the ’95 season the team moved up to Long Beach.
The West Coast Hockey League brought the Gulls back to SD in 1995 and they stayed until 2006 where they served as an affiliate for the Colorado Avalanche after the East Coast Hockey League took over the WCHL. The team dominated the WCHL winning the Taylor Cup championship five out of their eight seasons (no other team in the ECHL had more than one in that span). The team achieved the 100 point mark five times and never finished worse than second place, only missed the playoffs one season (2005). I remember the Gulls trying to get a new arena because the Sports Arena was out of date. The city (no big surprise) wouldn’t finance the team to build one or renovate it so they were forced to move. It was so frustrating because at the time they were the most successful team SD had. Technically speaking they’re the only team in SD win a championship, and yes I know the Chargers won the AFL championship before they merged to the NFL. The last game I ever went to was a playoff game against the Bakersfield Condors my friend and I walked right up to the ticket box and got ice level tickets on the blue line for $20 a piece.
This year the NHL and Anaheim Ducks announced that they were buying the Norfolk Admirals and bring them to San Diego, along with five other teams that will make up the American Hockey League’s pacific division. They held a “hockey fest” to reveal the official team name and logo to the city. A whopping 8,500 fans showed up, think they’re excited to have the Gulls back? The best part about the Gulls coming back? They will be “AAA” a team, just one level below professional.
San Diego is a melting pot of people from all over the United States who move out here for jobs or because the weather is nice. A majority of them are hockey fans. You don’t have to be a Ducks fan to be excited about this. I go to Ontario Reign (the affiliate for the Los Angeles Kings) games all the time and I’m not a fan of the Kings. Minor league games are also a cheaper option as opposed to the NHL. It’s a good exposure to the sport and hopefully this will encourage kids to learn to play hockey.
I really hope that this go around of Gulls hockey will be permanent. I am a firm believer that San Diego could be host both an NBA and NHL team. With all the tourism here we can certainly attract them to these games, after all it is America’s finest city. The team already has 1,600 season ticket holders which is a very good start. And I can only hope the die-hard San Diego fans embrace this opportunity and fill up the arena and make it a tough place to play.