San Diego’s Moskal overcomes odds in rookie pro season
Talent has a way of somehow finding its way to the top.
In the case of San Diego native Parker Moskal, the path to success was long and circuitous, involving stints with eight teams in six leagues while interrupted by numerous setbacks due to injury.
Moskal had played for four teams in as many leagues by the time he was 17. He played for two more teams as an 18-year-old and celebrated his 19th birthday out of hockey due to a serious knee injury.
But a lot of perseverance and support from friends allowed Moskal, now 21, to finally realize his dream of playing professional hockey after recently concluding his rookie season with the Mentor (Ohio) Ice Breakers in the Federal Hockey League (FHL).
“After everything I’ve had thrown at me in life being able to reach the professional level, especially coming from a non-traditional hockey market as San Diego, has truly been a dream come true and a journey I hope that can show the next generation of hockey players anything is possible,” he said.
Moskal played in a total of 17 games for Mentor during the 2018-19 season, scoring nine goals with 18 assists for 27 points. He ranked first on the team with an average of 1.6 points per game and was honored as the league’s rookie of the month award for March.
“Being named rookie of the month was a great honor to end to my rookie season,” Moskal said. “This honor was just a testament to the work ethic our whole team showed while I was in Mentor; it would not have been possible without my teammates.”
Finding the light
Things were not always so bright, however. Moskal spent six months in a homeless shelter at age 8 and lived in motels with family until he was 14.
It was at this time that he discovered hockey, which would turn out to be his path out of darkness.
Finding the necessary support structure in hockey rinks, he left home at 15 to pursue his dream of playing at the highest level possible.
He met new teammates at every stop; they would become his surrogate family.
“No matter what your financial situation might be, you can always get better and teams will find you,” Moskal recalled.
Moskal moved to New Hampshire to play Midget ice hockey after his freshman year in high school. He appeared in 19 games for the Northern Cyclones of the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League (MetJHL), recording four goals and 13 assists for 17 points.
That was just the beginning of a playing odyssey that crisscrossed the North American continent.
He celebrated his 17th birthday by playing for three teams in as many states: the Colorado Rampage in the T1EHL and the Cheyenne Stampede and Long Beach Bombers in the Western States Hockey League (WSHL).
He appeared in 23 games for the Rampage with nine goals and 14 points and collected one goal and five assists in 10 games with the Bombers. He scored two goals in two games with the Stampede.
He celebrated his 18th birthday as a member of the Cochrane Crunch of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (NOJHL) and Pikes Peak Miners of the North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL). He logged 24 games between the two teams with six goals and 10 points.
He discovered that life in Colorado suited him well.
“My time in Colorado was truly amazing, making friendships that have lasted to this day,” Moskal said. “We all still meet up during the summers and golf or play pickup hockey. It was probably the tightest-knit group I’ve been a part of.”
It was at this time that Moskal had to deal with his first serious hockey injury.
He returned home to San Diego over the summer and began skating at a local roller hockey rink as part of the process of rehabilitating his knee. But something unexpected happened: he fell in love with inline hockey. For the next year, ice hockey’s loss was roller hockey’s gain.
Moskal quickly found his way to the top of the inline hockey world by playing in the NARCh Pro Division and the American Inline Hockey League (AIHL).
He led the nation in scoring in the AIHL’s Tier 1 division while playing for the Mavin Outlaws during the 2016-17 season.
The Outlaws posted a meteoric 23-1 regular season record en route to recording a runner-up finish to the Philadelphia Liberty Blue at the national championship tournament in Las Vegas.
Moskal crafted a phenomenal season with 64 goals and 97 points in 24 regular season games. He was involved in more than half of the team’s goals (55 percent) with either a goal or assist; he scored a whopping 36 percent of his team’s goals on his own.
It was time to give ice hockey another try.
He was not disappointed in what would be his first comeback bid by racking up 31 goals and 68 points in a second stint with the Bombers. He recorded a career high 54 penalty minutes to display a sense of toughness to go with finesse.
At 20, he wanted more.
He signed an amateur tryout agreement (ATO) with the Rapid City Rush of the ECHL to start the 2018-19 season. He performed well but was the team’s last cut in training camp.
However, he did not let himself become discouraged.
“They ended up releasing me as the final cut but I was first on the call-up list,” he said. “I knew I just had to put up good numbers and work hard and that everything would work out right.”
A month later, he was playing in his first professional game as member of the Elmira (N.Y.) Enforcers of the FHL.
He scored a goal in his pro hockey debut but suffered a severe shoulder injury (separated shoulder and torn biceps muscle) to effectively shelve his career with the Enforcers.
He returned to Colorado this time for rehab, which erased four months off the playing calendar.
Given his run of bad luck, he could easily have given up at that point. But the burning desire to compete and prove himself among his peers remained.
“The injury was definitely a huge setback,” he recounted. “I basically had no shoulder strength by the time I started physical therapy in January. Mentally, it was challenging. There were times I wanted to quit but I kept focused on the main goal that I was coming back better than I was. I read a ton on mental side from sports books.”
When he recovered from the shoulder injury he was traded to Mentor, which created more uncertainty and anxiety for Moskal.
“Going to Mentor, I was super unsure of my abilities,” he said. “I even thought I might get cut after the first practice because of how poorly I skated.”
However, Moskal completed his second comeback form a hockey injury by recording a goal and assist in his first game with the Ice Breakers in a March 1 game against the Watertown Wolves.
Moskal made an immediate impression in his first season in the FHL by racking up a pair of four-point performances: three goals and one assist in a March 10 game against Danville, including the winner in overtime) and one goal and three assists in an April 5 game against Port Huron.
Friendship, as it turned out, proved to be the best medicine in the healing process.
It was while getting treatment in Colorado that Moskal met Beth Call, who would serve as his inspirational muse in his path to recovery.
“I met her at the hockey rink,” Moskal explained. “She was joining a women’s adult league team. It was a huge morale boost. Without her support I wouldn’t have been able to do as well as I did. She was constantly there keeping me focused on the end goal.
“She ended up actually flying out to watch my last three games of the season. She was there to talk about hockey whenever and just keep me focused on playing my game.”
Moskal has set a goal to play at the highest level possible, whether that is in the FHL or elsewhere.
There is now a guiding light.
“This offseason is huge and I been working more on my strength in the weight room than anything so far,” he said. “Beth is definitely the drive behind how hard I’m training this offseason as well as may drive to succeed in Mentor.”
Six other Californians joined Moskal in the FHL during the 2018-19 season.
Mission Viejo’s Taylor Love skated for the regular season and Commissioner’s Cup playoff champion Carolina Thunderbirds while Anaheim’s Sean Reynolds and Escondido’s Jacob Walters suited up for runner-up Elmira.
Love, completing his fourth season in the FHL, collected four goals and 12 points in 15 games for the Thunderbirds to go with 56 penalty minutes. The 27-year-old defenseman appeared in 29 games with the Macon Mayhem of the Southern Professional Hockey League while on loan from Carolina during 2018-19.
Reynolds, 27, appeared in 43 regular season games for the Enforcers with 27 goals and 57 points. The 27 goals ranked second on the team while the 57 points ranked third most. He scored the game-winning goal in Game 1 of Elmira’s semifinal playoff series against Watertown.
Walters, 25, started the season with Carolina was but traded to Elmira in November, finishing with two goals and 13 points in 53 regular season games with the Enforcers.
Woodland Hills’ Daniel Chang, Los Angeles’ Josh Colten and Rancho Cucamonga’s Matt Graham contributed a sizable Golden State presence on the Port Huron Prowlers.
Of note, Graham, 31, set career highs in both points (76) and assists (62) this past season while leading the league in assists in 50 regular season games.
He has resigned with Port Huron as a player-assistant coach and will be entering his third season with the Prowlers — his second in the role of player-assistant coach.
“Last season was a learning experience for myself,” Graham said. “Going into it I wasn’t 100 percent sure what to expect, but Joe (Pace, Prowlers head coach and general manager) helped guide and show me the ropes. I’m definitely excited to get started again, especially with a year under my belt. I know what’s expected and what needs to be done differently in order to help put a championship quality team on the ice.
“I think last season if you look at how we finished the playoff series we were close. Both of those playoff games against Carolina, the eventual champion, a bounce here or there and it could’ve ended differently. Next season if we can improve in a couple areas that we were lacking, we’re looking at a season that finishes with us bringing home the trophy.”
The Ice Breakers finished 18-35-0-5 in their inaugural season, tying the Danville Dashers (19-36-0-4) with 58 points for last place among the league’s six teams. Both teams failed to qualify for the Commissioner’s Cup playoffs.
Ice Breakers photos/Paul DiCicco
— Phillip Brents
(June 17, 2019)