Gulls Get Familiar Foe in Playoffs

San Diego and Ontario know each other quite well by now

When the Gulls beat Bakersfield on Wednesday night they secured home ice advantage in the first round of the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup Playoffs. They also knew they would be playing the Ontario Reign in the opening best-of-5 series, adding a little extra edge to the start of the post-season.

“It’s always fun to play against Ontario,” said Gulls goalie Jhonas Enroth. “Even the big clubs are rivals. Big games and those games are always fun to play in.”

The Ducks own the Gulls while the Kings rule the Reign and the dislike between the NHL franchises trickles down to the farm. They even play a similar style of hockey.

“Both teams are pretty big, offensive-skilled guys,” said Enroth. “It’s going to be tight around the net; probably low-scoring games. I think we both have been evenly matched throughout the year.”

When you play a team 12 times a year there is going to be more than a little bit of familiarity. When their series starts on Friday these teams will have played each other 29 times over the last two seasons. At this point there cannot be many secrets left.

“Well obviously there are some secrets that we can’t say,” said grinning Gulls forward Nick Sorensen. “They know how we’re playing and we know how they’re playing. We’re kind of similar; work hard, use our strength. It’s going to be a battle.”

And that is where the home-ice advantage comes in to play. The AHL will use a 1-1-1-1-1 format, ping-ponging between San Diego and the Inland Empire. That means the deciding game, if necessary, would be at Valley View Casino Center, and that could make all the difference in the world.

“I can only imagine in the playoffs when Ontario comes in to this building it’s not going to be very fun (for them) so getting that extra game at home is going to be very important for us,” said Sorensen.

The Gulls have one of the best home records in the AHL but even more important than that in the first round is … Ontario has not been nearly as good on the road as they have been at home.

“We’ve been very good at home this year,” said Gulls head coach Dallas Eakins. “It’s a place we’re very comfortable. We really feel like our fans are an extra skater. They really inspire our guys so that extra game at home is certainly welcome against a team like Ontario.”

The Ducks are also participants in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and have half a dozen former Gulls on their roster, including defensemen Brandon Montour and Shea Theodore. Given all the turnover they’ve had this season it’s amazing the Gulls are near the top of the Western Conference standings.

“It doesn’t matter who we have in the lineup, our expectation is to win,” said Eakins, whose system is able to allow new players to be plugged in and contribute quickly. “We’ve used 50 players this year and we’re able to backfill it all the time. When we lose a guy to injury or to call-up we’ve spent a lot of time with the other players and when they’re put in there they’re able to perform. It’s important if you’re going to go deep in to the playoffs you’re going to need a lot of players.”

That could even open up the opportunity for youngsters like Escondido native Austin Ortega, who beat the Reign with a shootout goal on Friday night, to get their first post-season experience.

Game 1 of this first round Calder Cup Playoffs series starts Friday night at 7:00 at Valley View Casino Center.

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