Photos by Chris Stone
Updated at 5:20 p.m. Feb. 22, 2015
Thousands of fans Sunday clogged roads around the former San Diego Sports Arena to welcome San Diego’s new professional team. Traffic on Rosecrans Street was backed up to Interstate 8.
Fans’ goal: Learn the new name.
The answer: Same as the old one — San Diego Gulls.
“We plan to become more than just a San Diego hockey team,” said Anaheim Ducks owner Henry Samueli, promising the franchise will be “part of the city’s DNA and fabric.”
The name and logo of the new American Hockey League club was unveiled at 1:25 p.m., 55 minutes later than scheduled, to accommodate fans. A line snaked around the arena. Even team owners said they had trouble navigating traffic.
(But a blogger at sportslogos.net revealed the name and logo earlier in the day when the club’s website posted the image prematurely.)
“We are so pleased and thankful to be here today to usher a great sport back to a great town,” Samueli said to cheers, later adding at a news conference: “It took us literally 10 years of work to finally make this come to fruition (referring to the relocation of five teams to California). We are so excited.”
Ducks CEO Michael Schulman said that, as part of growing ice hockey in San Diego, his organization would “pay for any child who wants to learn — for his uniform, for his ice time. … We will cover these costs initially.”
Amid dismaying news that the NFL Chargers were prepared to pair with the Oakland Raiders on a new stadium in Carson, crowds attending “HockeyFest” at the Valley View center were happy to cheer a different team. A facade of ice blocks was smashed, and the logo was revealed.
“It’s nice to have another sport,” said Kody Saenz of Lake Elsinore, “It will give another outlet for everyone. It’s nice to know that a younger generation can see the Gulls again.”
Nichole Wilson of Vista said she was super excited: “The game is fast. You can feel their passion. There’s nothing like a hockey fan.”
Said Dave Costanzo of San Diego: “Hockey is the greatest sport to watch live. The energy in hockey is nonstop.” Five people in his group already have season tickets.
“I love hockey,” said Joel Kalmonson of Point Loma. “It’s a real sport. I hope it creates a buzz about it. I never expected to see that big of a line. It’s good for the city to have a pro hockey team again.”
As U-T San Diego noted last month, a company led by Schulman registered the domain names SanDiegoAdmirals.com and SanDiegoGulls.com.
A U-T poll found 63 percent of respondents favoring San Diego Gulls.
Home games at Valley View begin this fall. CBS8 has reported that the team will practice in Poway — at a facility yet to be built. But Sunday, a team official said: “We haven’t decided that yet.”
The Ducks announced Jan. 29 that their Norfolk (Virginia) AHL affiliate would be moving to San Diego to begin play at Valley View as part of a shift of five teams to California.
FrozenFutures.com recalled the history of San Diego hockey:
The San Diego Gulls are a former minor league hockey team that played in the city off and on between 1966 and 1995. The original Gulls played in the Western Hockey League from 1966-1974, when the Gulls folded to make room for the San Diego Mariners of the professional World Hockey Association.
The Mariners lasted until 1977, and hockey did not return to the area until 1990 when the Gulls returned as a part of the International Hockey League. The relocated to Los Angeles and in 1995 a new Gulls team returned in the West Coast Hockey League with a team that lasted until 2006.
The website also noted: “No NHL player has ever come from San Diego to this point.”
Mayor Kevin Faulconer also spoke — but heard scattered boos when he was introduced. (One of the first things he said was: Let’s keep the Chargers here in San Diego.)
Willie O’Ree, the first black to play in the NHL, took part in an autograph session with fellow former San Diego Gulls Martin St. Amour, B.J. MacPherson and Brad Belland.
A panel discussion on the past, present and future of hockey in San Diego was held in the arena’s Stella Artois Lounge. The panelists were to include David McNab, the Anaheim Ducks senior vice president of hockey operations, Ari Segal, the San Diego AHL team’s president of business operations, and O’Ree. The discussion was moderated by sportscaster Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton.
McNab’s late father, Max, coached the Gulls for their first six seasons in the Western Hockey League.
Registration was conducted for Learn to Play hockey sessions next month at The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Rolando and Icetown Carlsbad.
The first 1,000 fans in attendance received free T-shirts. Team merchandise was available for purchase.
Some 1,600 deposits for season tickets have been made since the team’s move was announced, communications manager Sam Kieckhefer told City News Service.
The Feb. 6 announcement by the San Diego Gulls of the Western States Hockey League that they will change their nickname to the Sabres beginning with the 2015-16 season prompted U-T San Diego to report that it was a “foregone conclusion” that the AHL team would be named the Gulls. Kieckhefer declined to comment on the report.
Gulls was the nickname of San Diego’s 1966-74 WHL team, 1990-95 International Hockey League team, 1995-2003 West Coast Hockey League team and 2003-2006 ECHL team.
The AHL team will be San Diego’s first professional hockey team since the Gulls folded in 2006 when negotiations to sell the team in time for the 2006-07 season failed.
—Chris Stone and City News Service contributed to this report.