Sunny San Diego not giving Gulls a cold shoulder

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How’s this for an ice-breaker?

There’s a San Diego pro team featuring hard hits, excitement and a top-shelf tailgate atmosphere.

And it doesn’t want to leave town!

“With everything we’ve done, we’ve been blown away,” Ari Segal said.

Segal is the San Diego Gulls president. Yeah, we think that’s a pretty cool name considering his team as well.
The Gulls, the Anaheim Ducks’ top minor-league affiliate, open the American Hockey League schedule on Saturday night against the Grand Rapids Griffins.

Good luck getting a ticket.

“We’re almost sold out,” Segal said.

While the Chargers are cashing out on decades of support, the Gulls are checking in on all things San Diego.

And the feeling is mutual.

When the Gulls held a kickoff event, they expected 250 people — 850 appeared.

When it had a Labor Day fund-raiser at its home, the Valley View Casino Center, they anticipated 500 fans — 1,300 came through the door.

For the recent bus jaunt to the Honda Center to see the Gulls skate against the Ontario Reign, they Gulls figured about 300 riders — 700 sought a seat.

“Everything we do we try to do the analytics to get some indications of what to expect,” Segal said. “And every single time it’s been three-to-four times more people than that. It’s awesome.”

So is the rebirth of the San Diego Gulls, a popular bunch from 1995-2003 and 2003-2006.

Evidently many of those patron remain as the Gulls enter the season with 3,000 season tickets sold.

“Certainly there is a tradition of hockey in this town, going back a long, long time,” Segal said. “That is clear.”
Also working in the Gulls’ favor is the thousands of military personnel in the region, many coming more traditional hockey markets.

In addition, the Gulls help fill — along with San Diego State basketball and San Diego Sockers — the docile part of the sports calendar. That dead zone of after the Chargers season and before the Padres start.

Throw in local media outlets hungry for content during those quiet months and it’s easy to see why the Gulls took flight.

“There were a lot of favorable dimensions to this market,” Segal said, and no, we don’t think he was talking to the Bolts.

What’s a jolt is the level of play at the prices being charged.

It’s not a stretch to state this is the second-best hockey league in the world. The players are one step from the NHL, which brings the AHL to a talent level that is second to one.

With tickets priced affordably — no NFL sticker-shock here — it’s easy to see why the locals scooped them up.
Consider a ticket in the VVCC lower section is $19 for season-seat holders.

“For less than $650 for a season you can see guys that are NHL-quality players at a distance that is squarely in the lower bowl area of any NHL arena,” Segal said. “That includes fees and parking. It is really hard for something else to match that value.”

The real bond is San Diego and the Gulls and wait until the fans enter the arena.

The VVCC has undergone a face lift without going to La Jolla.

A new scoreboard looms over the proceedings. Fresh glass and boards circle the ice. Vinyl wraps in the concourse give love to the Gulls past, present and future.

But what if you don’t know a blue line from valet line? Or the only ice your accustomed to is in glass wrapped around your hand?

Relax, keep an eye on these players and just scream a lot when someone gets rocked into the boards.

Goalie John Gibson is a can’t-miss prospect — otherwise, the Ducks wouldn’t have given him $7 million. Watch him now, because soon he’ll be 100 miles north with the Ducks. He could be a starter on numerous of other NHL teams.

Forwards Stefan Noesen and Nick Ritchie are first-round picks; ditto defenseman Shea Theodore. Max Friberg, another forward, has NHL service time.

That’s all cool, but didn’t we mention a tailgater? Is there anything San Diego sports fans enjoy more than sipping before the start?

The Gulls got the memo and are having a 5 p.m. parking lot bash before the curtain rises on Saturday’s game. Half-price beer is among the draws and I’ve already said enough.

Hockey Saturday night in San Diego will be revved before the puck drops.

“We’re expecting 500 people,” Segal said

We’re anticipating — once again — he’ll be pleasantly surprised by the turnout.

“Supply,” Segal said with a smile, “probably won’t meet demand.”

 

+ Contact Jay Paris at jparis@bcaradio.com. Follow him on Twitter on @jparis_sports.

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