‘Underdog’ Limoges proving he can compete

Photo: Abbotsford Canucks

📝 by Patrick Williams


A one-year American Hockey League contract is a show-me situation for any young prospect, and San Diego Gulls rookie forward Alex Limoges has shown everyone a lot this season.

Limoges arrived in San Diego last season following a four-year collegiate career at Penn State. He produced quickly at the AHL level, picking up 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists) in 23 games with the Gulls after completing his senior year in 2020-21.

But the undrafted 24-year-old found himself with very little assured entering this season. He had that AHL contract that he signed last August, and a new head coach to impress in Joël Bouchard.

Limoges has done his part.

Last weekend in a two-game trip to Abbotsford, he put himself among impressive company in the Gulls record book. Limoges picked up his 21st goal on Friday night, setting a new team record for goals in a rookie season; the mark had been held by Sam Steel, an Anaheim Ducks first-round pick now firmly established in the National Hockey League.

That goal came on the power play, giving Limoges 11 power-play tallies for the season to tie a club record set by former captain Sam Carrick in 2018-19. Those 11 power-play goals lead all AHL rookies, putting Limoges ahead of the likes of NHL first-rounders Jack Quinn (Rochester Americans), Jakob Pelletier (Stockton Heat), Alex Holtz (Utica Comets), and Lukas Reichel (Rockford IceHogs).

Undrafted and playing on an AHL contract, Limoges is proving that he can compete against elite talent in a league brimming with top picks bound for the NHL.

“Honestly, I’ve felt that way at every level that I’ve played, as long as I can remember,” Limoges recalled. “I think the first time was probably going into my sophomore year in high school. I was going to the boarding school South Kent [in Connecticut]. They had me on fourth line there to start out the year, and I finished leading in scoring.

“But each level I’ve been playing that underdog role. I love to work hard, and I’m not the flashiest guy, but I like to get things done. So it’s all a motivation for me. I know where I want to be, and where I can be.

“Especially in the AHL, I think it’s such a huge honor to be among those names and show that you don’t have to be a first-round pick to be successful.”

In all, Limoges has 36 points (21 goals, 15 assists) in 54 games this season as a rookie; combined with last season’s stint, Limoges owns 57 points in his first 77 pro games. He won the AHL Player of the Week award for the period ending March 27 after he rang up seven goals in a four-game stretch, a performance that included a March 23 hat trick to help defeat Tucson, 4-3. He has at least one point in 10 of his past 11 games and 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) during that run.

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“I thought for a while there, I was playing well, but not having the points come along,” Limoges said. “So of course it gets frustrating, but it was kind of one of those things where this doesn’t last forever. Just keep playing ball, keep playing our game. Now it’s starting to go in, and everything feels good.”

With both Carrick and Vinni Lettieri sticking in Anaheim this season, Limoges has been counted on heavily to pick up some of that missing offensive slack. Bouchard has used Limoges on the left side of center Bo Groulx and 19-year-old first-round pick Jacob Perreault. With a sturdy six-foot, 207-pound frame, Limoges has the make-up to be strong on the puck and in traffic.

“Both of them are so dynamic, can make plays anywhere on the ice, and score goals, too,” said Limoges of Groulx and Perreault. “I feel I’m more net-front and battling in the corners, and when they have the puck, you know they’re going to do something special. All I have to do is get open, so it’s almost like I have an easy job.

“But I think we complement each other well. We communicate a lot on the bench and through practice. And so it’s been a lot of fun playing with them, kind of learning off them, and developing that chemistry we have.”

Limoges arrived in Southern California with some experience helping to drive an offense. Last season at Penn State he had a team-leading 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in 22 games while captaining the club. He also was an All-Big Ten pick for the second time in his collegiate career. He finished his time at Penn State third all-time in points (125) and goals (51) and fourth in assists (74) while skating in 128 games.

But Bouchard demands a commitment to defensive play to remain in his lineup and take a prominent role, and Limoges has earned that trust at the pro level.

“Honestly, I think my defensive game has gotten a lot better,” Limoges acknowledged. “From where it was, I think I’ve been working on that a lot. To be more reliable and play in different situations throughout the game… that is probably the first and the biggest improvement that I’ve made. And then I think I’ve gotten a little quicker… I know I have a long way to go with that, but I felt like I’ve improved that throughout this year.

“Just being hard to play against, defensive habits, winning battles, what to do with the puck if I have pressure. A lot of that is systems, but I feel like even in the offensive zone, like taking the body and just being physical and hard to play against, I think that’s something that coach Bouchard has really drilled into my brain.”

Photo: Abbotsford Canucks

Limoges also admits that he has been fortunate to play for both Bouchard and former Gulls head coach Kevin Dineen this early in his pro career.

“I think they’re both great coaches, and I respond well, I feel, to that style,” Limoges continued. “Coach Bouchard this year [has] really been working with me a lot and staying on top of me through practices and games with holding that standard. Obviously, my dream is to play in the NHL, and he wants me to be there. So he’s been tough on me, and everything’s paying off now. So I couldn’t thank him more for that.”

Now Limoges and his teammates are positioned to experience Calder Cup Playoff hockey. The Gulls, 8-3-1-1 in their last 13, start a three-game set with the Ontario Reign tonight at Pechanga Arena, where they can clinch the Pacific Division’s final playoff berth with a win.

“I think the identity of the team is ‘gritty,’ Limoges stated. “We use that word a lot around the rink and pride ourselves on playing hard and being hard to play against. Coming down the stretch, we’ve had a lot of success lately, and it’s been a long time coming.

“I think everybody’s buying into the system and kind of trusting the process that we knew was going to happen eventually. But you know, it’s a lot of hard work. And with this past month… it’s been a lot of fun to win. So now that we got a taste of that, I think we’re not going to change the formula.

“We’re just going to keep going and try for success.”