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San Diego natives Moy, Ortega double dip in rare AHL matchup

 

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San Diego County youth hockey coaches are hard pressed to remember another time when two homegrown products faced off against each other in a professional hockey game in their hometown.

But such an event took place March 16 when the Milwaukee Admirals dropped into the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego for an American Hockey League (AHL) matchup against the resident San Diego Gulls.

The rare hometown matchup paired Tyler Moy, a 22-year-old rookie forward for Milwaukee, against Austin Ortega, a 23-year-old rookie with the Gulls.

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Both players earned starts for their respective teams. Each player recorded two shots in the game, a 2-0 San Diego victory.

It was a very special night, especially for Moy, who was cheered on by friends, family and former youth hockey teammates and coaches who turned out to watch him make his hometown professional debut.

“It’s something I had been thinking about a lot,” Moy said. “Obviously, there was going to be a lot of people here. My dad is a hockey coach in San Diego, so many people going through the San Diego Jr. Gulls organization know us and my family. It was pretty cool and special to play in front of family and friends. It was something I was really looking forward to.”

Moy admitted he was extremely excited about his San Diego homecoming. The Admirals arrived in town the day before, which allowed Moy to reconnect with boyhood friends.

“It was a blast to be back,” Moy said. “It’s been exciting to have the whole team here to share my hometown with them.”

Locals had circled the date at the start of the season in anticipation of Moys’ homecoming.

Youngsters pressed their faces against the Plexiglas for a glimpse of Moy as he took the ice for pregame warmups. Some held up signs welcoming him home while others reached out to exchange high-fives when he left the ice through the tunnel.

Call it “Moy-mania” for lack of a better word.

Moy remains the pride and joy of the Scripps Ranch High School roller hockey program (along with Scripps Ranch/Marshall Middle School alumni Chad Ruhwedel and Thatcher Demko, both of whom have now played in the NHL).

Moy played his freshman year with the Falcons before leaving the region to pursue his development as an elite ice hockey player. That path eventually took the San Diego native to Harvard University – and the AHL.

Longtime Scripps Ranch assistant coach Bob Gauthier specifically wore his Harvard shirt to the game in support of Moy.

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“Tyler is a very talented, gifted, hard-working, dedicated and extremely humble young man,” Gauthier explained. “I can’t say enough good things about Tyler, to be honest. Every summer he comes out to the Skate with the Pros program we run at the 4S Ranch rink and talks to our players, gives them great life advice and encourages everyone. The kids love him and look up to him as a great role model.

“It is so great for him to come here to play. He was always a total hockey player, even as a kid. We missed out when he took off for Chicago after his freshman year on the Scripps team. But we did have his younger sister Keely, too, and she is awesome — and following in Tyler’s footsteps at Harvard.

“Both these kids are super smart, hard-working and dedicated. Tyler has a kind and caring heart off the ice and he is all business on the ice. I went to see him at the Beanpot tournament a few years ago and he stood out for Harvard.”

Players from the Golden State continue to command presence in college hockey and the pro ranks. Ortega and Moy were among 25 Californians on the season opening rosters of AHL teams in 2017-18.

“It’s great to see that there’s more guys coming out of California, and San Diego,” said Ortega, a native of Escondido in San Diego County’s northern region.

Both Moy and Ortega grew up as Gulls fans, though in a different era.

The Gulls of their youth played in the AA-level West Coast Hockey League from 1995 to 2003 before making the transition to the ECHL from 2003-06. The region was without pro hockey until the AHL Gulls arrived with westward expansion in 2015-16.

Ortega was nine years old when the Gulls joined the ECHL; Moy was eight.

Moy said his memory was a bit hazy on exactly which Gulls team – WCHL or ECHL — he rooted for as a kid.

“Back then I didn’t know the difference,” he said, smiling.

Interestingly, both played one year of scholastic inline hockey for their respective high schools before leaving town to further their ice hockey careers.

Scripps Ranch High School competes in the CIF-Metro Conference; Ortega played for San Pasqual High School’s club team.

“Obviously, it’s a different style of game,” explained Moy, who started playing roller hockey at three and began to learn to ice skate about at the same time. “There’s a lot of strategy in roller. There’s more puck possession, so being able to hold onto pucks and suck guys into plays, you’ve got to handle the puck a little more. You kind of work on your hands. That aspect has helped me.”

After leaving their hometown, both Moy and Ortega took similar paths to the pros, which included a stint in the United States Hockey League (USHL) and playing in a major college hockey program.

Moy collected 23 points in 64 games with the USHL Omaha Lancers in 2012-13 before going on to play four seasons at Harvard University (2013-17) where he recorded 102 points in 131 games, leading the Crimson to the 2017 NCAA semifinals.

Moy was selected in the sixth round (175th overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft by the Nashville Predators after his sophomore season at Harvard.

He joined the Predators’ AHL affiliate in Milwaukee for three games at the tail end of the 2016-17 season, recording his first professional goal to go with three assists.

Following his short stint with the Admirals last season, Moy went back to Harvard to earn a degree in human evolutionary biology.

Other interests besides science include painting and drawing.

But hockey remains his passion.

“Being from San Diego, when the Gulls came back (in the AHL) there was a huge buzz around San Diego about them returning,” Moy recalled. “Obviously, they’ve got a great fan base here and to be back home where it all started is real important.”

In 65 games this season, Moy has accumulated five goals and 15 points with Milwaukee. The 15 points rank in a tie for second among rookies on the Admirals.

“Obviously, everyone is bigger, stronger, faster (than in college),” Moy noted in his adjustment to the professional level. “Everyone know what they’re doing out there. The game is really controlled. There’s a lot of good players.

“It’s a different environment, too, off the ice. There’s way more free time. Back at school, I would have to do basically homework all the time. That aspect, the social aspect, is a lot different. There’s also a lot more games in the pros and that’s an adjustment as well.”

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Ortega, who played travel team hockey in Southern California for the L.A. Hockey Club and the San Diego Jr. Gulls, left town to play for the Colorado Thunderbirds 16U and 18U teams in the T1EHL during his sophomore and junior years in high school. He then played his senior year in high school for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in the USHL.

“It was definitely an experience at first (but) I had to do what I needed to do to take that next step,” he said.

Ortega played one more season in the USHL, splitting time between the Indiana Ice and Fargo Force in 2012-13. He played in 13 playoff games for the Force, recording eight goals and 12 points, as the Fargo team finished runner-up to Dubuque in the Clark Cup Finals.

The USHL proved to be a stepping stone to college. Ortega played four years at the University of Nebraska-Omaha (2013-17) where he tied an NCAA record with 23 game-winning goals.

During his four years with the Mavericks, Ortega compiled 70 goals and 139 points in 147 games. Southern California native Brett Sterling originally set the NCAA record for game-winning goals with Denver (2003-06).

“It was an adjustment at first but with every other league you get used to it,” explained Ortega in making the jump from the junior level to NCAA Division I hockey. “Each year, things got easier and better. It was just a fun experience.”

An undrafted free agent, Ortega signed a ATO (amateur tryout agreement) with the Gulls after concluding his senior season at Omaha. He appeared in six games with the AHL club at the tail end of the 2016-17 season, netting four goals and five points. He also appeared in two Calder Cup playoff games,

Ortega signed a one-year free agent contract with the Gulls to start this season and participated in the Anaheim Ducks’ preseason training camp. He played in one exhibition game before being assigned to San Diego for the 2017-18 AHL season.

“It was a pretty special experience to play alongside NHL guys and wear the Ducks uniform,” Ortega said. “It was definitely eye-opening and pretty exciting to play in that game.”

The Escondido native started the season with the Gulls and appeared in 17 games with two goals and 10 points before being sent to the team’s ECHL affiliate in Salt Lake City, the Utah Grizzlies, for more playing time.

Ortega proved his worth with the Grizzlies by earning the CCM/ECHL Rookie of the Month award for February after racking up seven goals and 21 points in 11 games. He produced at least one point in 10 of the 11 games during the month.

Ortega was named the ECHL Player of the Week for the period ending Feb. 25 after recording eight points (two goals, six assists) in three games.

“It was definitely a pretty cool accomplishment,” Ortega said. “It was a pretty proud moment.”

He’s remained in his groove with four points in eight games since returning to the AHL.

In 25 AHL games this season, Ortega has accumulated three goals and 14 points.

With 59 points in 54 games between the AHL and ECHL in 2017-18, there’s no question that he has turned in a productive season.

“I want to showcase myself, develop as a player, help the team out winning games as much as I can, just getting ready for that next step.”

Ortega has showcased his speed and offensive tendencies throughout his rookie season.

“My offensive knack, finding the net, setting up plays, just creating offense and other areas I can help out … I want to prove that I belong here and get better and better.”

He said among the things he worked on while with the Grizzlies was regaining his confidence and “getting into situations where I could put up the offense every single night, put pucks in the net, making plays, using my speed and all the things that make me the player that I am.”

“That definitely help me (transition) back here,” he said. “I want to bring offense, chipping in with goals, creating plays, creating things on the power play and bringing energy.”

Like Moy, Oretga appreciates the local support.

“It’s pretty cool to come back now in my hometown and play for the Gulls,” he said. “It always nice to have friends and family close.”

Both the Admirals and Gulls are involved in frantic playoff races in their respective divisions. Heading into the final two weeks of regular season play, neither team had yet secured a berth in the upcoming Calder Cup playoffs, though the Gulls appeared closer to doing so.

San Diego’s magic number to clinch a playoff berth was seven heading into its final six regular-season games. Milwaukee’s magic number was 20 with seven regular season game left to play.

“It’s going to be a battle every night,” Ortega said. “It’s fun that there are a lot of teams fighting for home ice and for spots. You know that you have to bring your game every single night.”

Making the save

Demko, selected in the second round (36th overall) by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2014 NHL Draft, received a surprise call-up to the Canucks on March 31.

He made 26 saves on 30 shots to win his NHL debut against the Columbus Blue Jackets when teammate Alex Edler scored at 1:21 of overtime.

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Demko, 22, presented the game puck to his father after the personal milestone.

“I just tried to enjoy it; I had a blast,” Demko told reporters after the game. “This is my first time seeing what it’s like up here. It’s a lot faster. Pucks are moving quicker and guys are making plays. I feel like one of the biggest things I’ll be working on is just making reads a little bit quicker and realizing where potential threats are. Just a ton of stuff that I’m excited I was able (to see) and take into summer and really work on.”

All four goals Demko allowed came with an extra man on the ice for the Blue Jackets. He finished his first NHL game with a 3.91 goals-against average and .867 save percentage.

Demko joined the Comets following three seasons at Boston College. He finished 28-7-4 with a 1.88 GAA and .935 save percentage his final year with the Eagles in 2015-16.

The transition to the professional level has been a smooth one. Demko recorded a 22-17-1 record with a 2.68 GAA, two shutouts and .907 save percentage in his rookie season for a team that failed to qualify for the Calder Cup playoffs.

He has continued to make strides this season with a 23-12-4 record, 2.49 GAA and .921 save percentage to help lead the Comets to secure a playoff berth.

His international experience includes a silver medal as a member of Team USA at the 2013 IHF World Under-18 Championships. He termed his first NHL game experience as being the first step in the process of what he needs to improve on to excel at that level.”

Rancho Cucamonga’s Collin Delia received a call-up from the AHL Rockford IceHogs to the parent Chicago Blackhawks on March 28 and made his NHL debut between the pipes on March 29, earning a 6-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets.

Delia, 23, stopped 25 of 27 shots he faced in 44 minutes in his first NHL game as a goaltender.

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Delia was unbeaten in his last nine games with the IceHogs at the time of his NHL call-up. He was 14-6-2 with a 2.69 GAA and .904 save percentage in 24 games after starting the season with the ECHL Indy Fuel.

Delia earned his first NHL loss on March 30 as the Blackhawks lost, 5-0, to the host Colorado Avalanche. Delia made 31 saves in the setback.

In his first two NHL games, Delia had posted a 1-1 record with a 3.96 GAA and .889 save percentage.

An undrafted free agent who played at Merrimack College, Delia became the 10th Blackhawks player to make his NHL debut this season and the second former player from the Fuel to make the jump all the way to the NHL. He became the first Indy player to play for the Blackhawks and the 641st player in the 30-year history of the ECHL to play in the NHL.

Delia earned honors as the CCM/AHL Player of the Week for the week ending March 4 after turning aside 72 of the 73 shots he faced in two starts during the week to post a 0.50 goals-against average, a .986 save percentage and posting the first shutout of his professional career – a 3-0 win on March 3 against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Blackhawks goaltender development coach Peter Aubry stated the following in regard to Delia: “Collin has worked hard this year and he’s quite determined. We knew he was a high-end individual and he would do the things necessary to get the most out of what he has. He has an even keel … He’s a talented kid. He has a great skill set, he’s an excellent skater and he’s improved his puck tracking a lot this year. We’re just scratching the surface, there’s a lot more there.”

Players of the Week

Ontario Reign forward T.J. Hensick earned honors as the CCM/AHL Player of the Week for the period ending Mar. 18, while San Jose Barracuda forward John McCarthy received the same honors for the period ending Mar. 11.

Hensick tallied three goals – including two game-winners – and added three assists for six points in three games to help the Reign capture three consecutive one-goal victories, all in come-from-behind fashion.

Hensick capped a two-goal performance with the decisive goal in overtime to lift Ontario to a 3-2 win over visiting Cleveland on March 14. In a March 17 home game, he set up the tying goal and scored the game-winner as the Reign defeated Milwaukee, 3-2. On March 18, Hensick tallied two more assists as Ontario came back to defeat San Jose in overtime, 5-4, to maintain possession of second place in the Pacific Division standings.

An 11th-year pro from Howell, Mich., Hensick is a four-time AHL All-Star Classic participant and 2011-12 Second Team AHL All-Star. He has appeared in 624 career AHL games, totaling 166 goals and 397 assists for 563 points.

Drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in 2005, Hensick has also skated in 112 NHL contests, recording 12 goals and 26 assists for 38 points.

McCarthy totaled three goals and three assists for six points in two games against visiting Cleveland on March 9-10 to help keep the Barracuda in the thick of the Pacific Division playoff race.

In the first game, McCarthy registered the first hat trick and the first four-point game of his nine-year professional career, sparking San Jose to a 6-2 victory over the Monsters. In the second game, McCarthy notched two more assists as the Barracuda blanked Cleveland, 4-0, for their fourth consecutive win.

In his second year as captain of the Barracuda, McCarthy returned to the San Jose lineup on Mar. 2 after representing the United States at the 2018 Olympic Games in South Korea. The Boston native has tallied 10 goals and 15 assists for 25 points along with a team-best plus-6 rating in 50 AHL games in 2017-18; he now has collected 113 goals and 149 assists for 262 points in 486 career AHL contests with San Jose, Chicago and Worcester.

A seventh-round draft pick by the San Jose Sharks in 2006, McCarthy also has three goals and three assists in 88 career NHL appearances.

Monster Mash

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The Cleveland Monsters – and Southern Californians Scott Savage and Miles Koules – made a pair of road swings through the Golden State during the month of March, playing a total of eight games.

The Monsters visited San Diego on March 6 and March 30, San Jose on March 9-10, Stockton on March 11 and March 28, and Ontario on March 14 and March 31.

Koules, a Beverly Hills native, is playing his first full season in the AHL after enjoying a cup of coffee with the Monsters (one goal in seven games) and Reign (scoreless in two games) in 2016-17.

Through 61 games with Cleveland this season, the 23-year-old right winger had collected 11 goal and 24 points to rank as the top rookie scorer on the team.

He made his California homecoming a special one by scoring goals in both the March 30 game in San Diego and March 31 game in Ontario.

“Family and friends,” Koules offered in making reference to the personal milestone.

It’s been a while since Koules had scored a goal in front of hometown fans.

He left to play his U16 Midget season at Shattuck-St. Mary’s prep school in Minnesota, compiling 20 goals and 58 points in 53 games in 2009-10.

The United States National Development Team Program (U.S. NTDP) in Michigan called next.

Koules played two seasons (2010-12) with the U.S. NTDP as a 16- and 17-year-old. He appeared in 54 USHL games, collecting nine goals and 22 points with 50 penalty minutes.

He also played a significant number of games with the U.S. National U17 and U18 teams, including five games at the 2010-11 World U17 Hockey Challenge, netting three goals and seven points.

From there, the So Cal native played three seasons in the Western Hockey League (2012-15) with 150 points (71 goals, 79 assists) and 99 penalty minutes in 208 games with Medicine Hat and Portland.

He spent the next two seasons playing professionally as an undrafted free agent in the ECHL with the Quad City Mallards, Wichita Thunder, Atlanta Gladiators and Tulsa Oilers. He collected 11 goals and 46 points with the four teams.

He also appeared in two games for AHL Ontario in 2016-17.

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“It was cool,” Koules said in being able to play for his hometown team, however brief it was. “But I had the opportunity to play with Cleveland, and I’ve been here ever since.”

Koules, who signed an AHL standard player contract with the Monsters in July 2017, said there was an obvious adjustment period coming from the ECHL to the AHL.

“It was mainly speed and gaining confidence in myself,” he said.

Savage and Koules had been teammates as teenagers on Team USA.

“It’s great to have another California guy as a teammate,” Koules said. “We can talk about home.”

They can also talk about their goals of making it to the next level.

“I want to keep playing as well as I can and get to the NHL,” Koules explained. “Right now, I just want to help us get as many wins as we can. Hopefully, they will call.”

The March 6 game in San Diego marked the first time Savage, a San Clemente native, had played a professional hockey game in his home state.

“I had originally left (California) left to play hockey after my sophomore year in high school, so it’s special to play in familiar surroundings and in front of friends,” the former San Clemente High School student said.

Savage turns 23 on April 11.

This is Savage’s first full professional season after appearing in three games with Cleveland in 2016-17 following a four-year stint with Boston College (2013-17).

He made his mark in hockey on the East Coast.

Savage posted 10 goals and 71 points in 154 appearances with Boston College, helping the Eagles win the 2014 Hockey East regular season title. He earned selection to the 2017 Hockey East all-tournament team and the Hockey East Third All-Star Team.

Prior to college, he played two seasons with the U.S. NTDP (2011-13), helping Team USA claim the silver medal at the 2011-12 IIHF U17 World Championships.

He signed with Cleveland in June 2017, but was loaned to the Jacksonville Icemen on Oct. 10 to start the 2017-18 season. He made history with the first-year ECHL team by scoring the first goal in team history.

“It was a special feeling,” Savage explained. “I was glad to be a part of it and help them get established.”

He played 50 games in the ECHL in 2017-18, recording seven goals and 25 points, before being recalled by the Monsters on Feb. 12.

He has two assists in 13 games with Cleveland this season.

While Koules strictly played ice hockey growing up, Savage had an extensive youth roller hockey career before gaining attention with the L.A. Hockey Club/L.A. Selects. He started on wheels at 4, later playing competitive inline for coach Scott Acongio’s AKS program.

“Roller hockey has definitely helped my vision on the rink,” Savage noted.

Ice hockey, however, has made him a pro. “I just want to make the most of the opportunity I’ve been given,” he said.

In other words, there’s more to prove.

Trading places

Milwaukee’s March 16 game in San Diego showcased a pair of former members of the AHL San Jose Barracuda – goaltender Troy Grosenick and winger Brandon Bollig.

Both players were traded by the parent San Jose Sharks to the Predators prior to the Feb. 26 NHL trading deadline.

Both were assigned to Milwaukee, the Predators’ AHL affiliate.

Grosenick is 1-2 with a 2.72 GAA and .918 save percentage in three games with the Admirals while Bollig, a Stanley Cup champion with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013, has collected two goals and three points in 14 games with Milwaukee.

Bollig was the first St. Louis native to win the Stanley Cup. Grosenick, the AHL’s 2016-17 Outstanding Goaltender with the Barracuda, is a Wisconsin native.

What’s trending

The Pacific Division-leading Tucson Roadrunners became the first team in the Western Conference to secure a berth in this year’s Calder Cup playoffs when they defeated the host Iowa Stars, 4-3, on March 31.

It is the first Calder Cup playoff berth for the team in its history since moving to Arizona last season. The Roadrunners swept all four games on their most recent road trip to improve to 38-19-5-1 (.651 winning percentage). Tucson has five games remaining in regular season play, highlighted by four home games.

Michael Bunting had a big weekend for the Roadrunners with two goals in each game in Iowa. Carter Camper leads the team in scoring with 59 points (16 goals, 43 assists). Rookie Hunter Miska picked up both goaltender victories in Iowa.

Ontario reduced its magic number to secure a playoff berth to five points following its 5-3 over visiting Cleveland on March 31. The Reign improved to 35-21-4-2 (.613 winning percentage) but remained six points behind the division leading Roadrunners.

Three players have eclipsed the 40-point barrier for Ontario this season: Michael Mersch (21 goals, 24 assists) with 45 points, Matt Moulson (15 goals, 27 points) with 42 points and Hensick (11 goals, 29 assists) with 40 points.

Mersch leads the team with 10 power play goals while 2018 AHL All-Star Classic Pacific Division captain Brett Sutter tops the team with three shorthanded goals.

Philippe Maillet leads the Reign’s complement of 11 rookies in scoring with 32 points (17 goals, 15 assists). Goaltender Cal Petersen (22-11-1) leads the league’s rookies in wins, is tied for the league lead with a 2.32 GAA and ranks third in the league with a .918 save percentage.

Kalle Kossila leads San Diego in season scoring with 47 points (17 goals, 30 assists) in 49 games, followed by Sam Carrick with 41 points (13 goals, 28 assists) in 61 games.

Rookie Giovanni Fiore leads the Gulls with 18 goals on the season. He’s collected 30 points in 59 games to rank as the team’s top rookie scorer.

San Diego rookie netminder Kevin Boyle (18-10-2) sports a 2.61 GAA and .923 save percentage in 31 game appearances this season for the Gulls. He is 8-2-1 in his last 12 games, posting one shutout, a 1.78 GAA and .952 save percentage. Over his last 19 appearances, Boyle has earned a 13-4-1 record with one shutout, a 2.00 GAA and .944 save percentage.

Boyle stopped 44 of 45 shots (.978 save percentage) in a 3-1 win over Cleveland on March 30. He made 53 saves in a Feb. 17 win over visiting Ontario.

Rookie Rudolfs Balcers continues to lead San Jose in team scoring with 41 points (18 goals, 23 assists) in 61 games. He ranks seventh overall among the league’s active rookies.

Andrew Mangiapane paces Stockton in team scoring with 46 points (21 goals, 25 assists) in 39 games. He’s averaging 1.18 points per game. Mangiapane has played 10 games with the NHL parent Calgary Heat this season.

Bakersfield’s Ty Rattie received a call-up to the NHL parent Edmonton Oilers on March 15. He left Condorstown leading the team in scoring with 43 points (21 goals, 22 assists) in 53 games. In 11 games with the Oilers this season, he has recorded four goals and seven points.

Paired with Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on Edmonton’s top line, Rattie reeled off five points in a recent four-game span.

Demko photo/Utica Comets
Delia photo/Rockford IceHogs
Additional photos/Phillip Brents

— Phillip Brents

(April 3, 2018)