Ice Hockey Rolling the dice with the Boardwalk Bullies by chandni27


									Ice Hockey: Rolling the dice with the Boardwalk Bullies
Atlantic City is known for gambling and the Miss America pageant, not hockey. Yet, Grand Forks'Jake Moreland would rather win another Kelly Cup and spend time with his new bride than hit the night life.

With only six games of NHL experience, Ken Dryden was dumped into the pressure cooker of the 1971 Stanley Cup playoffs. All the gangly goalie from Cornell did was lead the Montreal Canadiens to an enormous upset over Boston and eventually a Stanley Cup victory over Chicago. Similarly, after completing his career at St. Cloud State, Grand Forks, North Dakota native Jake Moreland was called for emergency netminding duties with the East Coast Hockey League's Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies for their 2003 Kelly Cup run. The AHL Philadelphia Phantoms had called up Matthew Yeats and the Bullies needed some insurance between the pipes. Although Scott Stirling carried the bulk of the duties in leading the franchise to the championship, Moreland had an auspicious debut; in the Division finals against Greensboro; the 6'2" Moreland notched two wins including the series clincher where he turned away 33 shots. Not a bad way to start a professional career. Later that summer the celebrations continued as Jake and fiance Nicole tied the knot. Tying knots in his skate laces is something Jake Moreland has been doing since he can remember. "I was three-years old when I started playing hockey," reminisced Moreland. "We lived on a cul-de-sac and every day after school we would play on the frozen ponds and outdoor rinks in the area. By the time I was 10 I was playing hockey all over the place in leagues. "My dad (Ken) used to play hockey as did my older brother. So naturally I picked it up -- it was just something you did, living where we were. No doubt, the recent Heritage Classic outdoor hockey game in Edmonton, Alberta must have reminded Jake Moreland of those early days. Growing up in Grand Forks meant being a regular at the University of North Dakota hockey games and even serving as a stick boy when he was in elementary school. Ironically, years later in a St. Cloud uniform, he would compete against and beat North Dakota for one of his more memorable college hockey moments. It was not all hockey for the Dave Matthews fan. "Even though hockey was the most important thing, I played pretty much every sport; baseball, football. Living in North Dakota, we used to do a lot of fishing and deer hunting," he said. "There are some awesome spots in North Dakota for fishing -- I still try to do it when I can. I remember my dad taking me fishing and we would do the father and son thing -- we had some great talks and great times." His parents still play a prominent role in his life, as do his three brothers and one sister. "My parents were always there for me, they were and still are very supportive of my playing hockey," he said. Any other special memories? "Yeah, our teacher Mr. Ames would take us to the Badlands and Mount Rushmore, it was really cool climbing around there -- I still enjoy going there," he said.

Was he always a goalie? "I was a forward until I was 13," he recalled. "Then our team that year didn't really have a goalie and they asked me if I wanted to, so I did. I liked it right away even though I had a lot to learn. I liked the way you were kind of responsible for yourself and were the last line of defense." After graduating from Grand Forks Central High School in 1997, Moreland headed to Sioux City for a twoyear stint with the Musketeers of the USHL. The first campaign saw him riding the pines as he played in only 12 games while posting a solid 7-2-2 record with a 0.922 save percentage. Moreland blossomed his second season in Iowa. He won 19 of 35 games and finished the season with a 2.53 goals against average. His rock solid goaltending caught the eye of college recruiters and Moreland opted for a 90% scholarship at St. Cloud State University. Once again, he had to start as a backup. Playing behind All-American Scott Meyer, Jake saw action in only seven games his first two seasons while recording a 4-3 record and one shutout. "It was really frustrating being a backup," he said. "I knew I had the skills so at times I was upset but I would watch Scott and learn from him." By his junior year, he was ready and even angry. He recalls: "I didn't like the way things were going and had a meeting with the coach." It turns out Coach Dahl wasn't thrilled either. St. Cloud had a wealth of solid goaltenders and despite his dependability in the number two role, Moreland was stunned by what he heard. "He told me I would probably be cut from the team," he said. "That gave me a lot of incentive. I did a lot of strength training during the summer and was in much better shape when camp opened. I worked hard in practice and stayed on." The 2000-01 season saw him share netminding duties with Dean Weasler until a broken bone in his hand sidelined Moreland. The injury healed, Moreland returned to the ice during the third period of a loss in Denver after Weasler left the contest with the flu. Moreland started and won the next night and the job was his permanently. He started both games against Minnesota the next week and backstopped the Huskies WCHA playoff series over Minnesota-Duluth. Moreland's hard work and dedication to his craft were vindicated and Dahl later praised him publicly and privately. Jake commented about the difficulty that any backup goalie has to deal with: "It's tough. You don't play much but you have to be sharp when you do get the call, but sitting on the bench it's hard staying sharp. The Catch-22." How does he make the best of the conundrum?

"You have to push yourself in practice and hope you get the call," he said. "Watching the game closely when you're not playing is important so you can learn what to do and not to do. Although he lists "Anything to do with school" as a pet peeve, Moreland was no slouch in the classroom. Biomedicine (he's working to get his final three credits) and athletic training were his major and minor respectively, and Jake would someday like to attend medical school. By his senior year, Moreland was the undisputed number one for the Huskies. According to his coach, he had overcome his biggest challenge-mental toughness. Even his role model Jon Casey let in the odd soft goal, however, the key is to dismiss it from the mind and carry on. Former Boston Bruins goalie Gerry Cheevers had it down pat -- after any goal he would look innocently around. The implication being that it wasn't his fault no matter what. Undrafted after his play at Sioux City, the pro scouts were eyeballing him from the stands during his tenure at St. Cloud. Moreland's consistency and 14-9-1 senior record led to visits from Anaheim, St. Louis, Washington, New Jersey, and Edmonton. Things looked promising for a package with the Capitals. While declining to get into specifics, Moreland was unhappy with negotiations. "I fired my agent," he says bluntly. "I didn't like the way he handled things and let him go." Hindsight says it was for the better; the Capitals have a glut of goaltending in their system and the fight for playing time would continue for the competitive Moreland. A bright spot was being named the team's Dave Torrey award winner as the outstanding goalie for 200203. He sported a 3.00 GAA and a .911 save percentage. During his four-year term with the Huskies, Moreland posted a .910 save percentage (third best in team history) a 2.79 GAA (third best in team history), four shutouts, and an overall record of 26-17-1. Coming from a city in North Dakota to the tourist mecca and gambling of Atlantic City must have been quite a change for Moreland. "Not really," he said. "I don't hit the nightlife here. I'm married now and just stay focused on that and playing hockey." Again, however, Moreland is starting as the backup. Playing behind Scott Stirling, Moreland closely observes his friend and rival. "I watch how he plays the position -- that is key in this game," he said. "It's a learning process. The transitions happen quickly and you have to be in the perfect position all the time, not only for the first shot, but also the rebound."

Asked his impressions of the ECHL, Moreland responded with: "It's a good league. The play is faster than college, the players are more skilled at this level several former NHLers call the ECHL home), and they're quicker. We travel around in a plush bus so I can't say the travel part is difficult even though this is only my first real year. Game day is boring---we have a morning skate, eat, take a nap, and then it's game time. There's not much time for anything else." Down the road, Moreland would like to start a family with Nicole and he hasn't lost hope for a shot in the NHL. He's only 24, is solid and dependable between the pipes, has had only one losing season (his freshman year at St. Cloud when he went 1-2), and has shown remarkable adaptability in every situation. If he doesn't get to the NHL, Moreland plans a return to academia and medical school. Ken Dryden would be proud.
By John Berkovich Published: 1/19/2004

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