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California strikes gold with pair of AHL monthly awards

 

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California struck gold during the month of October as San Diego native Thatcher Demko of the Utica Comets and Stockton Heat forward Andrew Mangiapane each collected awards for excellence from the American Hockey League (AHL).

Demko received recognition as the CCM/AHL Goaltender of the Month, while Mangiapane was named the CCM/AHL Player of the Month.

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A second-round pick (36th overall) by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2014 NHL Draft, Demko, 21, helped steer the Comets through a rugged season-opening seven-game road trip where he allowed eight goals on 160 shots in five appearances, going 4-1-0 with a 1.61 goals-against average, .950 save percentage and one shutout.

The second-year pro recorded a 33-save shutout at Rochester on Oct. 13. Following a two-day recall to Vancouver the following week, Demko finished the month with a 31-save effort in a 6-3 victory at Charlotte on Oct. 29.

The Canucks’ top goaltending prospect did not see any game action during his late October call-up, which was classified as more of a paper transaction to satisfy one of the oddities of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. According to sources, the Canucks needed to be as close to the upper bounds of the salary cap in order to maximize their use of long-term injured reserve (LTIR).

Demko flew to Minnesota and skated with the Canucks on Oct. 24.

The six-foot-four, 195-pound Demko played three years at Boston College before joining the Comets for 45 games during the 2016-17 AHL season where he registered a 22-17-4 record, two shutouts, 2.68 GAA and .907 save percentage as a rookie.

In his final season with the Eagles, he posted a 27-8-4 record with 10 shutouts, a 1.88 GAA and .935 save percentage in 2015-16 to earn the Mike Richter Award as the NCAA’s top goaltender.

He’s been spot-on during his AHL career so far.

With Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson manning the pipes in Vancouver, Demko admitted he remains “pretty realistic” with what the Canucks organization has in mind for him. That means he’ll likely spend the season in Utica barring injuries to either Swedish netminder.

Demko’s strengths are his athletic ability for such a large frame, specifically his mobility, flexibility and quickness. All of those qualities were enhanced following successful hip surgery prior to his final season in college.

“The more mobile my body is, the less I have to move, if that makes sense,” Demko said in an interview with NHL.com.

Demko has continued to excel beyond the Comets’ marathon season opening road swing. In six games in 2017-18, he has recorded a 4-1-1 record, one shutout, a 1.82 GAA and .943 save percentage.

Red hot

A sixth-round pick (166th overall) by the Calgary Flames in the 2015 NHL Draft, Mangiapane has blossomed as a second-year pro.

The 21-year-old native of Toronto began this season with a nine-game scoring streak for Stockton by recording five goals and 10 assists for 15 points to go with a plus-10 rating. The nine-game point streak is the longest in the AHL to face off the 2017-18 campaign; he holds the team record for longest assist streak at eight games (and counting).

Mangiapane scored Stockton’s first goal of the 2017-18 season on Oct. 6, helping the Heat to a 4-1 win over Bakersfield. He registered a goal and two assists against defending Pacific Division champion San Jose in a 6-4 loss on Oct. 7 for his second career three-point night. He assisted on the winning goal in Stockton’s 4-0 victory over defending Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids on Oct. 14.

Mangiapane had a two-assist effort in 6-3 victory against the visiting San Diego Gulls on Oct. 21 — his first of three consecutive two-point games.

The early season scoring rampage has lifted Mangiapane to the top of the AHL scoring chart with the 15 points in nine games; he’s tied for league lead with the 10 assists.

After a three-year stint with Barre in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), Mangiapane tallied 20 goals and 21 assists in 66 contests for Stockton during his rookie season in 2016-17.

Mangiapane notched 51 goals and 106 points in 59 games for Barre in 2015-16.

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He took over the AHL scoring lead with 12 points by collecting a goal and assist in the Heat’s 4-3 shootout loss in San Diego on Oct. 25.

“I worked really hard in the summer, so I was hoping for a good start to the season, which is happening but you don’t really think about it, you just try and get two points every game and help the team win,” he said in a postgame interview.

Braced by Mangiapane’s red-hot start, the Heat finished 6-2-0-1 during the month of October to occupy third place in the AHL’s Pacific Division standings with a .722 winning percentage. He finished the month with points in five consecutive games (4-0-0-1), including a near spotless three-game road swing to Bakersfield and San Diego that saw the Northern California club pick up five out of a possible six points (2-0-0-1).

The Heat’s success on the ice has come despite battling a sluggish special teams performance that has the team ranked 17th in the 30-team AHL in power play efficiency (16.3 percent) and tied for 20th in penalty killing (82.2 percent).

Stockton is 3-0 against Bakersfield and 2-0-0-1 against San Diego to start the new season.

The Heat is one of two teams in the league to record two shutouts so far this season, with one each going to goaltenders Jon Gillies (4-1-1, 2.31 GAA, .924 save percentage) and David Rittich (2-1-0, 2.67 GAA, .916 save percentage).

Former Union College sensation Spencer Foo ranks fourth among AHL rookies with 26 shots — he leads Stockton in shots, one ahead of Mangiapane.

The parent Flames recalled Mark Jankowski on Oct. 23 after the 23-year-old forward had collected five goals and eight assists in the Heat’s opening six games. He replaced Jaromir Jagr in the lineup (out with a lower-body injury) and has since played five games in Calgary, going scoreless.

Stockton returns home to host the Manitoba Moose on Friday, Nov. 3, and will host the Texas Stars on Saturday, Nov. 4, as part of the Heat Hockey Fights Cancer community awareness program.

Stockton players will wear special lavender themed jerseys for the first time in team history for the Nov. 4 game to help to raise awareness and funds for all forms of cancer. Jersey giveaways will also be provided to children and adults before the game.

Player of the Week

Tucson forward Dylan Strome is having nothing short of a fabulous start to his AHL career.

The 20-year-old native of Mississauga, Ont. — the Arizona Coyotes’ top pick (third overall) in the 2015 draft — has been a key contributor to the Roadrunners’ ascent to sole possession of first place in the AHL’s Pacific Division standings with a 5-1-1 record (.786 winning percentage).

Strome notched seven points and a plus-8 rating in three consecutive victories to earn CCM/AHL Player of the Week honors for the period ending Oct. 29.

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In an Oct. 25 game in Grand Rapids, Strome figured on all of the Roadrunners’ scoring, netting his first career professional goal and adding two assists in a 3-1 victory over the Griffins.

Back in Tucson following a successful four-game road swing during which the Roadrunners earned seven out of a possible eight points (3-0-1), Strome was able to showcase his enormous talent for home fans during a two-game weekend series against the Iowa Wild.

Strome recorded an assist as Tucson defeated Iowa, 4-1, on Oct. 27, and collected three assists to spark the Roadrunners to a come-from-behind 5-4 overtime win over the Wild on Oct. 28.

Strome has collected 10 points (one goal, nine assists) in six games with Tucson in 2017-18; he is one off the league lead in assists (nine) and ranks in a tie for second in plus/minus (+10).

A scoring sensation during four seasons of junior hockey with the Erie Otters in the OHL, Strome racked up 129 points in 68 regular season games in 2014-15 and 111 points in 56 regular season games in 2015-16).

He captured the league scoring title in 2014-15 and earned MVP honors at the 2017 Memorial Cup tournament.

He’s already leaving his mark in the desert.

He had an immediate impact in his first game with the Roadrunners — a 4-0 win in Bakersfield on Oct. 14 — by collecting two assists, including the secondary assist on the game-winning goal, in his first AHL game. He hasn’t stopped contributing since then.

“I thought I felt pretty good,” he said in an interview on the Tucson team’s website (www.tucsonroadrunners.com) in dissecting his AHL debut. “I felt a lot more comfortable just to have the puck on my stick, and a little more time than the NHL. I’m trying to get used to a little bit of the difference. I like having the puck on my stick and trying to make plays, and my line mates played really well, too.”

Strome (6-3, 185) is still working toward on his development to become a regular in the NHL. He was scoreless in two games earlier this season with the Coyotes being assigned to Tucson and has one assist in nine career NHL games.

“The more you play, the more opportunities you get to show what you can do,” he said. “I thought I played a pretty good amount of minutes in my first game. It’s a little bit different; maybe playing only 10 to 15 minutes in the NHL, and maybe getting to play 15 to 20 minutes here is nice. It’s nice to be on the ice. It’s nice to be in situations that you’re not usually in, so it’s fun. I miss being in all of the situations, so it’s nice to be a part of this team.”

Meep Meep

Long Beach’s Emerson Etem has been a regular contributor to Tucson’s early season success with two goals and three points in six AHL games.

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Etem, the No. 1 pick (29th overall) by the Anaheim Ducks in the 2010 draft, signed a free agent contract with the Coyotes during the offseason. He has appeared in 173 career regular season NHL games in his career. He was one of the final cuts from the NHL Arizona team’s training camp.

His NHL career might not be over after receiving a call-up to the parent Coyotes on Oct. 11.

He has since returned to Tucson — and has continued to help the Roadrunners win.

“Any time I’m down here (in the AHL), I just try to move my feet,” said Emerson, who played one game in the AHL last season for San Diego before being sidelined with season-ending knee surgery. “I’m playing more of an offensive role, getting a little more time on the power play, a little bit more time on the penalty kill, that with a combination of playing a solid five-on-five. I’m just trying to help this team any way I can.”

Border Trophy

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Tucson and San Diego now have more than just standings points to play for after the teams unveiled the Interstate-8 Border Trophy during season’s opening weekend. The trophy will be awarded to the team with the most head-to-head points in their 12 regular season matchups.

“It was great to build a rivalry with our closest opponent last season, the Gulls,” Roadrunners president Bob Hoffman said. “We love the idea of building on and enhancing the rivalry more in our second season and for many years to come.”

The Gulls went up 1-0 in this season’s series with a 7-6 win in Tucson on Oct. 7. San Diego will host the Roadrunners for a pair of games Nov. 17-18. The teams will meet for a third consecutive time (fourth overall on the season) when they reconvene in Tucson on Nov. 22.

“It is exciting to enhance our rivalry on and off the ice with the Tucson Roadrunners,” San Diego president of business operations Matt Savant said. “With the creation of the I-8 Border Trophy, our hockey club and passionate fans will look to take the rivalry to the next level with the added bonus of bragging rights this trophy brings.”

California roll call

Miles Koules (Los Angeles) scored his first goal of the season for the Cleveland Monsters in their 4-1 win over the San Jose Barracuda on Oct. 20. In seven games this season, the 23-year-old forward has recorded a goal and three assists. Koules played in two games for the Ontario Reign last season and scored a goal in seven games for the Monsters in 2016-17.

•Following Cleveland’s AHL season opener on Oct. 7, the Monsters loaned defenseman Scott Savage (San Clemente) to the ECHL Jacksonville IceMen. Savage made history when he scored the first goal in Jacksonville franchise history on Oct. 14 in an eventual 5-4 overtime loss to the Orlando Solar Bears. Savage, 22, scored at 3:32 of the first period to the delight of the 8,956 fans gathered at Veterans Memorial Arena to witness the IceMen’s debut. In three games this season, Savage had collected one goal and one assist.

•The Rockford IceHogs assigned goaltender Collin Delia (Rancho Cucamonga) to the ECHL Indy Fuel on Oct. 4. Delia has since appeared in five games for the Fuel, posting a 1-3-0 record, 3.25 GAA and .911 save percentage.

Delia, 23, spent the previous three seasons at Merrimack College, where he finished his NCAA career with a 21-24-10 record, 2.48 GAA, .912 save percentage and four shutouts. The 6-foot-2, 201-pound goaltender helped the Amarillo Bulls win the North American Hockey League’s (NAHL) Robertson Cup title in 2013; he received the NAHL community service award in 2013-14.

Tyler Moy (San Diego) scored the game-winning goal in 4-1 AHL victory against the visiting Hershey Bears on Oct. 20.

Moy, 22, has collected one goal and three points in seven games with the Admirals this season after recording a goal and four points in three games with Milwaukee last season.

•In six games to start the season, goaltender Eric Comrie (Newport Beach) has strung together a 2-3-1 record, 2.85 GAA and .902 save percentage for the Manitoba Moose (4-4-1-1). The Winnipeg Jets selected Comrie in the second round (59th overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft.

•Veteran Matt Ford (West Hills) has registered three goals and four points in 10 games this season for defending AHL Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids (4-5-0-1).

Next level

Anaheim prospect Kalle Kossila collected his first NHL goal and first assist during a two-game call-up from San Diego while the Ducks made an East Coast road swing.

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Kossila, 24, scored his first NHL assist in a 6-2 win in Philadelphia on Oct. 24; he picked up his first NHL goal in Anaheim’s 8-3 loss to the Florida Panthers on Oct. 26. The Finnish native said he received more than 100 congratulatory texts and messages on his social media accounts after scoring his first NHL goal.

He received another call-up to the Ducks on Oct. 31. At the time of his first call-up, Kossila, a San Diego fan favorite for his energetic and outgoing personality, led the Gulls in scoring with six points in five games.

Demko photo/Utica Comets

Strome photo/Tucson Roadrunners

Mangiapane, Etem and Kossila photos/Phillip Brents

— Phillip Brents

(Nov. 3, 2017)