Sunday notebook: Gulls starting to turn it around

Photo: Todd Reicher

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

It was a rough go for the San Diego Gulls.

Really rough.

A 13-game losing streak between Oct. 20 and Nov. 24 dropped them to the bottom of the league standings. When they could generate offense, they couldn’t keep the puck out of their own net. And vice versa.

A slide like that can imperil a season before it has barely started. And for a team on its fourth head coach in as many seasons and coming off a last-place finish a year ago, it was the last thing anyone needed.

But something changed, and it started with the additions of rookie goaltender Tomas Suchanek and do-everything captain Chase De Leo.

Undrafted out of the Western Hockey League, the 20-year-old Suchanek had impressed the parent Anaheim Ducks enough at their preseason prospects tournament to earn an invitation to training camp. He signed an AHL contract for the 2023-24 season and was assigned to Tulsa, the organization’s ECHL affiliate.

It wasn’t as if Suchanek did not have a resume; he backstopped Czechia to a silver medal at the IIHF World Junior Championship last winter, leading the tournament with a 1.38 goals-against average and .939 save percentage and capturing a spot on its All-Star Team. And he performed well in Tulsa, at one point starting three games in three nights, stopping 74 of 79 shots and taking three wins to earn a recall to San Diego.

De Leo had been out of action since a knee injury in training camp with the Ducks. That setback had followed a difficult campaign in which he had been limited by injury to just 22 games. But De Leo was cleared to return and was assigned to San Diego on Nov. 23; two days later, with the Gulls’ streak at 0-10-3-0, the captain returned to the lineup and assisted on the go-ahead goal while Suchanek turned in a 23-save effort in his AHL debut as San Diego knocked off Chicago, 3-1.

Since De Leo and Suchanek joined the fold, the Gulls have gone 5-1-1-0. They completed a five-game Central Division road trip for four victories, outscoring Milwaukee and Rockford by a combined 17-3 in three wins this week. De Leo has been his usual offensively dominant self, collecting 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in his first seven games. Suchanek is 4-0-1 with a 1.99 GAA and a .926 save percentage through his first five AHL starts. He recorded his first AHL shutout on Friday in Rockford, becoming him the youngest player in Gulls history to do so.

“I think it was a mature game by us,” head coach Matt McIlvane told after the game.

For an encore in Rockford last night, Suchanek carried a shutout deep into the third period before the IceHogs finally solved him with 6:03 to go.

The surging Gulls are now off until opening a four-game homestand on Saturday against Henderson.

The Providence Bruins are on another roll.

If it sounds familiar, it should.

The P-Bruins won their seventh game in a row last night, a 5-1 triumph at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Georgii Merkulov rang up a career-high five points (two goals, three assists) while linemate Jesper Boqvist supplied a pair of goals and two assists. After Michael DiPietro’s 2-0 shutout at Lehigh Valley on Friday, Brandon Bussi took his own shutout bid into the third period against the Penguins before finishing with 30 saves.

Last season Providence finished first overall in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, buoyed in part by a 10-1-1-1 start out of the gate, six straight wins in February, and an eight-game winning streak in March. After a 6-5-3-1 start in 2021-22, the P-Bruins went on a 10-4-0-0 tear that set them up for an eventual trip to the Calder Cup Playoffs. In 2019-20, they were in the midst of a franchise-record 12-game winning streak when the COVID-19 pandemic halted the AHL season. In all, the Bruins have qualified for the Calder Cup Playoffs nine consecutive times.

They are almost becoming expected, these dominant nightly performances by Mavrik Bourque.

Bourque, the AHL’s scoring leader, had back-to-back three-point nights for the Texas Stars as they swept a pair of meetings with Chicago his weekend. He put up a goal and two assists on Friday in a 5-2 win, and added three helpers in last night’s 8-5 victory. Bourque is now up to nine multi-point efforts this season and leads the league with 24 assists and 32 points.

Bourque has gone without a point in just four of his 21 games this season. Last night’s win helped Texas to maintain a four-point edge on Milwaukee for the Central Division lead.

Alex Belzile sparked the Laval Rocket plenty of times during his five seasons with the club.

On Friday, Belzile worked against his old club for the first time as the former Rocket captain made his first trip back to Place Bell as a member of the Hartford Wolf Pack.

After Laval jumped out to a 2-0 lead, Belzile slowed that momentum with a goal 1:51 later. The Wolf Pack managed to eventually make it a 3-3 game by the middle of the second period and take it to a shootout, where Belzile converted his opportunity to help lead Hartford to a 4-3 win. Belzile’s work earned him first-star honors.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by AHL (@theahl)

The Iowa Wild have probably seen enough of Milwaukee Admirals goaltender Yaroslav Askarov for now.

Askarov is 4-0-0 with a .940 save percentage in four games against the Wild this season, including three wins in the last three weeks. On Friday, he stepped in for Troy Grosenick after the veteran departed following the second period with an undisclosed injury, and made 11 saves to help the Admirals close out a 4-2 win. Then last night, Askarov stopped 24 shots as Milwaukee posted a 4-1 victory and a sweep of their two-game trip to Wells Fargo Arena.

Askarov is a 21-year-old in his second season with the Admirals after going 11th overall in the 2020 NHL Draft to the parent Nashville Predators. He is vying to become the latest in a long line of top goaltenders to come through Milwaukee, a group that has included Pekka Rinne, Juuse Saros and Connor Ingram.

It was a lengthy path back to the Utica crease for goaltender Nico Daws, one that concluded when held he held the visiting Bridgeport Islanders to one goal on 32 shots in a 4-1 win on Friday.

The victory was Daws’ first appearance in net since Toronto ended Utica’s season in the North Division semifinals back on May 5.

Offseason hip surgery and a months-long summer recovery followed for the 22-year-old Daws, a 2020 third-round pick by the New Jersey Devils. Daws, who broke in with the Comets alongside fellow prospect Akira Schmid in 2021-22, appeared in 25 NHL games that year and led the NHL club with 10 wins.

But last season featured its fair share of challenges for Daws; while Schmid went on to start in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season and eventually earn a full-time job with the Devils this fall, Daws has found himself battling just to get back to health.

Daws returns at an opportune time for the Comets; Utica finishes a three-in-three weekend by concluding a home-and-home series with Syracuse today at Adirondack Bank Center.

The transaction wire has been a challenge for the Western Conference-leading Calgary Wranglers, who have lost Dustin Wolf, Connor Zary, Ilya Solovyov, Martin Pospisil, Jordan Oesterle and Matt Coronato on recall to the parent Calgary Flames this season.

But there has been some take amid plenty of giving for the Wranglers. The Flames signed veteran NHL blueliner Mark Pysyk to a one-year contract Dec. 2, and he made his Wranglers debut in Friday’s 6-2 win over Manitoba.

Pysyk went to training camp with the Pittsburgh Penguins before eventually landing with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, where he appeared in eight games last month. For the veteran of 524 NHL games, it was his first action after missing all of last season following surgery for a torn Achilles’ tendon.

“It was awesome out there,” Pysyk told after the win. “Fast. [The Wranglers] play the right way.”