California’s three-headed AHL Monster

This is a follow-up to my post earlier this week on Californians who have made the most of their NHL call-ups. That wasn’t a comprehensive list, only a few of the notables. Several others have played NHL games this season, and even more are thriving in the American Hockey League this season.

Let’s take a closer look at three more players with California ties who are playing for the Lake Erie Monsters, the top farm team of the Colorado Avalanche, this season.

Defenseman Raymond Macias of Long Beach had 13 points through 38 games, and he has battled through a few injuries. Ray played six games for the Avs at the end of the 2008-09 season. He’s a steady two-way defenseman, and with the Avalanche rebuilding, perhaps he will get another shot. Ray also might be one of the few players whose mother is more well-known in California hockey circles than he is. Helen Alex is a longtime team manager for the LA Jr. Kings, and has had a huge impact on hundreds of players’ careers through her caring ways.

Rookie Mark Olver spent a season with the California Wave, and teamed with, among others, Huntington Beach’s Rhett Rakhshani, to help the 88 birth year win a Bantam AAA national title in 2003. Through 58 games, the forward led the team in goals with 23 and had 40 points.

The third Monster has what I consider one of the more compelling stories of a pro from California.

Forward Matt Ford of West Hills has worked his way into a steady gig in the AHL and has 32 points, including 20 goals, through 63 games. That’s good, but how he got there is the impressive part to me.

Matt — whose father still can be found tending goal at rinks throughout Southern California — and his good buddy Brian Salcido , a one-time Ducks prospect, attended Shattuck-St. Mary’s Prep in Minnesota, where they won a national title with a guy named Crosby on their team (as well as a King named Jack Johnson and a Sabre named Drew Stafford).

Matt then won a national championship in 2006 with the Wisconsin Badgers (which as a native Cheesehead I need to personally thank him for). In between he was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks and never really given a look. He pressed on and stayed in school all four years (by the way, that’s a great idea kids).

Matt started his pro career with the Charlotte Checkers of the ECHL and played well enough to win All-Star Game MVP honors in 2009. He had a couple of cups of coffee with the AHL’s Hartford Wolfpack (a NY Rangers farm team) and a warmer with the Monsters later that season.

He got a camp invite from the Vancouver Canucks that summer, but found himself back in Charlotte however briefly before sticking with the Monsters last season, when he put up 27 points in 43 games.

His 20 goals this season are two off his pro high (21 of which were scored in the ECHL) in 2008-09. Matt is a study in perseverance and hard work, and he’s just one call away from the NHL.

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Macias makes NHL debut

One day after Garrett Stafford played his first NHL game in Los Angeles, another Southern California alumni is set to make his NHL debut tonight for the Colorado Avalanche – defenseman Raymond Macias.

Macias, who has played most of the season for the Avs’ AHL farm team, the Lake Erie Monsters, was recalled Tuesday to replace injured defenseman Brett Clark. Macias, a Long Beach native, has 18 points and is a plus-6 in 38 games with the Monsters this season.

He joins Hermosa Beach’s Brian Salcido as Californians making their NHL debuts this season.

Los Angeles native Stafford, meanwhile, played almost 19 minutes and had three shots in the Stars’ 3-2 victory over the Kings. Stafford had two assists – his first two NHL points – on Tuesday night in Phoenix.

Californians in the NHL and AHL in 08-09

The NHL and AHL seasons get in full swing later this week, and here is a list of players either born, trained or some combination thereof in the top two North American pro leagues.

NHL:

Atlanta – Left wing Brett Sterling made the club out of camp for the second season in a row.

Detroit – Defenseman Chris Chelios is back at age 46, but he’ll start the season on the injured list with a broken shin bone.

New York Islanders – Right wing Richard Park is in his second decade in the league with no signs of slowing down.

Toronto – Forward Ryan Hollweg has a new address this season after his trade from the New York Rangers.

The AHL ranks have expanded a bit from a year ago, but it would not surprise me in the least to see several of these players getting games in the NHL.

Grand Rapids – Defenseman Garrett Stafford is back even though he’s in Dallas’ organization instead of Detroit’s. The Wings are the primary affiliate of the Griffins. Stafford played his first NHL game last season for Detroit. He could get some more games if the Stars’ blue line experiences another run of injuries.

Grand Rapids – Forward Landon Wilson has several years of NHL experience and while he’ll bring experience to the Griffins, he can step in and help the Stars should injuries strike.

Iowa – Wing Bobby Ryan is in the AHL because of the Anaheim Ducks’ cap crunch, which is too bad after he had an outstanding camp.

Iowa – Defenseman Brian Salcido has a shot at getting his first NHL game this season. The Ducks’ carousel of veteran defenseman has the rapidly improving puck-mover in the minors … for now.

Lake Erie – Defenseman Raymond Macias is a likely fixture on the Monsters’ blue line after a good camp in Colorado.

Lowell – Forward Ryan Murphy is back with the Devils’ top farm team after going to camp in New Jersey.

Manchester – Forward Gabe Gauthier will be one of the Monarchs’ centerpieces this season, and given the parent club LA Kings’ youth movement, it would not be a surprise to see him get another NHL look at some point.

Springfield – Right wing Hans Benson spend has worked his way up to the AHL after stints in the CHL and ECHL. The Menlo Park-native brings plenty of toughness to the Falcons lineup and he played some preseason games for the Edmonton Oilers this year.

Toronto – Forward Robbie Earl was one of the Maple Leafs’ final roster cuts, and it’s a good bet he’ll be back up with the parent club this season, particularly if his defensive game rounds into form. Defense is a prerequisite to playing for new Leafs coach Ron Wilson.

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You can find my weekly report on California Alumni in hockey each Tuesday at www.calirubber.com