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La Mirada’s De Leo basking in Southern California homecoming

 

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La Mirada’s Chase De Leo grew up as an avid fan of the Anaheim Ducks.

He’s now an actual Duck after joining the NHL team in an offseason trade.

Understandably, De Leo called his Southern California homecoming a “dream come true.”

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“Obviously it’s every kid’s dream to grow up and play in the NHL if you’re playing hockey but to get the chance to do it with your hometown team that you grew up watching — being pissed off as a fan or happy when they won — it’s fun to be on the other side of the glass, and hopefully I get a chance to do that,” he offered with a well-meaning smile.

A fourth round (99th overall) pick by the Winnipeg Jets in the 2014 NHL Draft, De Leo was traded to the Ducks on June 30 for Orange County product Nic Kerdiles.

It was the believed to be the first trade between NHL clubs involving a pair of Southern Californians.

Both players subsequently signed with their new clubs.

De Leo, who turned 23 in October, inked a one-year, two-way contract through the 2018-19 NHL season with the Ducks while Kerdiles, 24, a second-round selection (36th overall) by Anaheim in the 2012 draft, agreed to terms with the Jets on a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 in the NHL.

Following the trade, both players offered thanks to their former employers as well as their new ones via social media.

“Thank you Winnipeg for the last three years!” De Leo posted on his Twitter account. “I’ve made memories that’ll last a lifetime with unbelievable teammates & awesome fans. I’m beyond excited for this new opportunity at home with the team I grew up watching and going to games as little kid!”

Kerdiles, who earned honors as the recipient of the American Hockey League’s IOA/American AHL Specialty Man of the Year award last season as a member of the San Diego Gulls, the Ducks top developmental affiliate, was equally appreciative of his time in the Anaheim organization.

Anaheim Ducks headshots“I want to first off thank the @anaheimducks for taking a chance of me,” Kerdiles tweeted. “Being drafted and getting the opportunity to play for my hometown team has been such a blessing. Secondly, I want to thank the @sdgullsahl and the community in San Diego for welcoming me into your amazing city. It has been a pleasure to play in front of you Gulls fans and the city of San Diego will always be a second home to me. That being said … Thank you @nhljets for giving me this opportunity and allowing me to be a part of this incredible organization. Excited to get to Winnipeg and start this next chapter in my life!”

Kerdiles appeared in two games for the Ducks last season, three total in his career, while playing in 49 games for the Gulls where he recorded 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points in 2017-18.

When Kerdiles was recalled to Anaheim for one game during the 2016-17 season, he earned celebrity status as the first Orange County homegrown product to play for the Ducks.

De Leo is in line to be next.

Prior to the offseason trade, De Leo had appeared in two games with the Jets while suiting up in 211 games for the Manitoba Moose, the Jets’ AHL affiliate. De Leo recorded 19 goals and 40 points in 73 games with the Moose during the 2015-16 season. He appeared in 69 regular season games the past two seasons with Manitoba, registering 14 goals and 32 points in 2016-17 and 12 goals and 35 points last season.

De Leo finished as the Moose’s top scorer in the 2018 Calder Cup playoffs with two goals and eight points in nine games.

De Leo entered his first training camp with Ducks with much anticipation and appeared in one preseason game.

He joined the Ducks’ AHL affiliate in San Diego at the end of the Ducks training camp and had a chance to play in an exhibition game with the Gulls in the Honda Center, the Ducks’ home rink. He scored two goals 1:55 apart in a 4-3 loss on Oct. 1 to the archrival Ontario Reign in front of 9,324 fans.

It was a big deal for De Leo, who had a rare chance to showcase his talent in front of friends and family in a hometown setting.

It also was a big motivational tool.

He called the experience “unreal.”

“It’s every kid’s dream playing in the NHL and playing for their home team,” De Leo noted in a postgame interview. “It’s an honor to be a part of this organization. I hope to play a lot more games here (at Honda Center). That’s everyone’s main goal and I’ll do everything I can to help this team win and hopefully get myself to the next level as well.”

The game at the Honda Center obviously rekindled fond memories.

“I grew up with season tickets and didn’t miss many games,” De Leo recalled. “My parents still have the inaugural season tickets of the Pond of the Mighty Ducks, the first-ever game. I have the Stanley Cup rally towel against the New Jersey Devils, a Wild Wing trophy in my room, a statue. I’ve been a huge fan my whole life, so it’s definitely a dream come true to come home.
“The last three years I’ve been in the cold in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It’s definitely good to be home and close to friends and family.”

De Leo was impressed by the fan turnout at the Honda Center for the game pitting the minor league affiliates of the Ducks and crosstown rival L.A. Kings.

“It was pretty cool,” De Leo noted. “It shows the dedication and how much hockey is growing in California, so I’m definitely excited to be a part of it.”

Due to his Southern California roots, De Leo quickly became a media darling in San Diego; he also endeared himself to Gulls fans by chipping in offensively with four points in the team’s opening three games.

In fact, he wasted little time in making a good first impression with his new team by recording a goal and assist in his regular season debut for San Diego in a 6-4 loss to the Tucson Roadrunners on Oct. 6.

The early season point production did not go unnoticed by the parent club, which recalled De Leo on Oct. 16.

De Leo skated with the Ducks but did not break into the lineup for Anaheim’s Oct. 17 home game against the New York Islanders.

Still, it was another step forward for De Leo as he inches closer to securing a foothold in the NHL.

“Obviously, it was unexpected,” De Leo said. “Any time you get news like that it’s exciting. I called my parents right away. It felt good to get the call-up. It never gets old. I had fun up there. It was short but it’s always a good time to be in the best league in the world.

“This is my fourth year as a pro. I know how good the life is up there. It’s the best league in the world and you get to play with the best players in the world. Obviously, you want to be up there full time. But for now you have got to put the work in and get better every day.”

The Ducks recalled De Leo again on Nov. 6 in an obvious show of confidence in the La Mirada native. He was reassigned on Nov. 8.

Gulls head coach Dallas Eakins has called De Leo “a great, great surprise,” noting that many times when a player comes in from another organization, it’s never quite sure what the new organization is getting.

Eakins said De Leo is “earning everything that he’s getting.”

De Leo said he couldn’t wait for the new season to start and get to work on fulfilling his dream.

“New system, new organization, new teammates, new setting, new city,” De Leo said.

Add to that list: new expectations.

It’s been fast-paced since his arrival in training camp.

“Quicken the pace and apply energy and speed, that’s what every practice has been like so far,” he said.

De Leo, who had collected two goals and three assists in eight games with the Gulls, said his goal is to work hard and compete every day to leave an impression both on San Diego fans and with the Ducks, who appear to be closely watching his progress.

“I think now it’s my fourth year, so I’ll have more of a leadership role,” he said. “I’m not much of a talker so I try to just let my action and my play lead by example but I’m excited to learn more about the guys. Like I said, it’s a new team so we’ve got to grow together and hopefully win together.”

De Leo represented Team USA at the 2015 World Junior Championship and helped the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League to a WHL championship and an appearance in the Memorial Cup final in 2013. In four seasons with Portland from 2011-15, De Leo recorded 110 goals and 251 points with a +111 rating in 115 career WHL games.

He appeared in 81 playoff games with the Winterhawks, recording 22 goals and 56 points.

De Leo said the talent assembled in Portland made the transition from the junior ranks to the professional level that much smoother.

“In Portland, with the Winterhawks in the WHL, we had an unbelievable group of guys,” De Leo related. “It was pretty much an NHL team the four years I was there – guys like Ryan Johansen, Ty Rattie, Brendan Leipsic, a bunch of guys you can learn from every single day, not only on the ice but off the ice. I’ve been fortunate my whole career to play with really good pros and that has helped me tremendously. But definitely I’m ready to take my game to the next level and I’m going to show that this year.”

Homecoming 2.0

The Milwaukee Admirals featured a pair of Californians in their lineup for their Oct. 19 AHL match in San Diego.

Joining fifth-year pro Rocco Grimaldi, a Rossmoor native, was native San Diegan Tyler Moy, who was recalled from the Admirals’ ECHL affiliate the previous evening.

Grimaldi had signed a one-year, free agent contract with the parent Nashville Predators during the offseason after spending the previous two years under contract to the Colorado Avalanche. He was the last cut from the Predators’ training camp.

Moy, a sixth round pick (175th overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft by Nashville, was assigned to the Admirals’ ECHL affiliate in Atlanta as one of the last cuts from the AHL team’s training camp. He played in one game, scoring a goal and assist for the Gladiators, before his AHL call-up.

Moy, 23, appeared in 72 games for the Admirals last season, recording six goals and 16 points after playing four years at Harvard University.

The Oct. 19 game in San Diego marked the second time in as many seasons that Moy had the rare opportunity to play professionally in his hometown.

He said he was excited to be back playing pro hockey in front of family and friends, even if it was just for one night.

Moy played in two games with Milwaukee before rejoining Atlanta, where he collected a goal and two assists in three games.

On Nov. 2, Moy cleared waivers to gain his unconditional release and terminate his two-year entry-level contract with the Predators. He subsequently signed on Nov. 5 with the Lausanne Lions of the National League, the top tier of Swiss hockey, through the end of the 2018-19 season.

Since Moy’s mother was born in Switzerland, he will not count against the import player contingent.

While still with the Admirals Moy said his goal was to “show that I can produce and be an impact player.”

“I want to make a statement down there (in the ECHL) and keep playing with a lot of confidence, and keep improving,” he said. “I know I’ll be getting a lot of ice time and situational exposure.”

Moy will obviously try to apply those same goals in his new surroundings. If he can achieve success in Switzerland, there is a chance he’ll get another shot at playing pro hockey in North America, possibly again with the Predators.

California dreaming

•Thousand Oaks native Trevor Moore received a call-up to the NHL Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 2 from the Toronto Marlies, the NHL team’s AHL affiliate.

Moore, who won a Calder Cup championship with the Marlies last season, had logged eight goals and 11 points in 10 games to start this season in the AHL.

“It’s really cool,” Moore told the Toronto Star. “It’s a dream come true. Happy to be here.”

Moore was a healthy scratch for the Maple Leafs’ Nov. 3 game but Leafs coach Mike Babcock said the team wants to have extra players around in case of injury or illness.

“We’re in a spot where we don’t have any extras,” Babcock told the Star.

Babcock said the call-up allows the Leafs coaching staff an opportunity to look at Moore.

“If we need him, we’ll use him,” the Leafs coach told the newspaper.

Moore received the call-up due to a shoulder injury to Auston Matthews, the NHL’s No. 1 draft pick in 2016, and William Nylander’s contract impasse.

•Former California Titan Pheonix Copley made the opening night roster of the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals to face off 2018-19 in noteworthy fashion. Copley, who spent four years in the AHL between the Chicago Wolves and Hershey Bears, recorded his first NHL win in a 4-3 shootout over the Calgary Flames on Oct. 27.

In four games this season with the Capitals, Copley had recorded a 2-1-1 record with a 3.14 goals-against average and a .898 save percentage.

Shining star

•El Segundo native Evan Weinger earned top star of the game honors in the San Jose Barracuda’s 3-1 AHL win over the visiting San Antonio Rampage on Nov. 2 by recording the game-winning goal and assisting on another.

Weinger, in his rookie season as a pro after four seasons in the WHL with the Portland Winterhawks and Brandon Wheat Kings, had collected four goals and seven points in eight games with San Jose.

“It’s really fun playing with all these guys, I’m just trying to have fun,” noted Weinger, named California Rubber Magazine’s All-California Junior Player of the Year in 2017-18, in a postgame press conference. “If I’m having fun, good things will happen.”

In other transactions involving California alumni:

•West Hills native Matt Ford, 33, signed a two-year contract extension with the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins. Ford captained the Griffins in 2017-18, collecting 22 goals and 38 pints in 72 regular season games.

Ford won a Calder Cup championship with the Griffins (and fellow California alum Mitch Callahan) in 2016.

•Newport Beach’s Eric Comrie signed a one-year, two-way contract with the NHL Winnipeg Jets after completing his third pro season with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose. Comrie, 23, set career highs in 2017-18 with a 2.58 goals-against average and .916 save percentage.

A second-round selection in the 2013 NHL Draft, Comrie posted a record of 18-13-3 with two shutouts in 34 appearances last season for the Moose. He is 2-2-0 in four career NHL contests.

Top photo/Phillip Brents

— Phillip Brents

(Nov. 8, 2018)