By Len Bardsley
The Times of Trenton
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Jake Moreland figures he has waited long enough for his opportunity, and now that he has it, he is not about to let go no.
The Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies goalie went nearly two months as the only option for his team after Adam Munro was called up to the Norfolk Admirals.
Moreland wanted to make sure the Bullies search would be for a little relief and not a replacement.
Moreland had started 20 games in a row before the Bullies finally signed Tyler MacKay. Even with MacKay (who played for Wheeling last season) in town, Moreland still has started two more games to extend his streak to 22 games (including Friday’s game against the Titans).
The 20 previous games before MacKay was signed the Bullies used an emergency backup goalie, meaning Moreland could be replaced only if he was injured.
The 25-year-old from Grand Forks, N.D., admitted being fatigued during the incredible stretch of games in which he put together a record of 15-3-3.
“The Christmas break was one of the best things that could have happened,” said Moreland of the Bullies eight-day break between games. “It was getting tough mentally and physically to prepare for games. The last stretch of three-in-three took its toll.”
The Bullies schedule was not kind during Moreland’s streak ending just before the holiday break with three games in three days on the road against Reading, Trenton and Johnstown, still Moreland went 2-1, only losing to the Titans.
Moreland started his ironman show with a game in Peoria, followed by a game in Dayton 333 miles away before having one day off and a 674-mile trek to South Carolina for a game against the Stingrays.
Despite all the travel, Moreland helped the Bullies climb into first place in the North Division.
“Jake has been great,” said Bullies coach Matt Thomas. “He has done a great job of battling through (the exhaustion). He has been our MVP. He has been so steady. He is competing every night.”
Moreland always has waited his turn to earn the starting job as a goalie. The only time in his career he played more than 25 games for an entire season was in Juniors when he appeared in 35 for the Sioux-City Musketeers in the United States Hockey League.
Moreland shared the goalie duties at St. Cloud State in college until his senior year when he played 25 games, compiling a 14-9-1 record.
Moreland didn’t pay much attention to the status of Munro, who the Bullies thought would be sent down at any time, instead he just concentrated on keeping his starting job.
“Our coach was telling me once in a while he (Munro) might be coming back, or he might be up for a long time,” said Moreland. “I tried not to think about getting a rest. I went out there and played the best I could. I didn’t want to give up my job to somebody when they came back.”
Moreland felt backing up Scott Stirling last season for the Bullies helped prepare him to be the main man with the Bullies this season. Moreland played 19 games for the Bullies until he was called up to American Hockey League and the Worcester Ice Cats.
“I didn’t play as many games as I wanted, (last season),” said Moreland. “But I learned a lot from watching Stirling, seeing how he was always so mentally focused. He is a great goalie and I try to play like him.”
The Bullies went through several emergency backup goalies before finally signing MacKay, one a little more familiar than the others.
“My brother was coming in on a vacation and I told him to bring his gear,” said Jake Moreland of his younger brother Kasey, who played 35 games for the Musketeers last season. “He was with us for almost a month. It was nice having him here. Playing 72 games you don’t get that much chance to see your family. I never played with my brothers before. We had a good time with it. He would always chime in and tell me what I was doing wrong.”
There were times Jake Moreland was involved in collisions on the ice, got banged up, but even with his brother on the bench and a chance to give him his first taste of professional hockey, Jake Moreland was determined to stay in the nets.
“The thought does run through your head you could get out of there,” said Jake Moreland. “You battle through it, knowing you are the only guy. I want to help out my team as much as I can.”
Though it has been tough at times for Moreland the streak has been a win-win situation for the goalie and the Bullies, one that could result in MacKay having to start a streak of his own if Moreland earns a job in the AHL.
“It gives you a confidence boost,” said Moreland of all his playing time and the wins. “You have to make sure you keep a level head and don’t get too overconfident. I am sure people are noticing how much I am playing and the team is playing well. Hopefully I will get called up again.”