By Mike Griffith
Californian Staff Writer
The Bakersfield Californian
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – It took Bob Bartlett more than a year, but he finally lured a hometown boy to the Bakersfield Condors.
That is, a native of Bartlett’s home town of Lethbridge, Alberta.
Bartlett, Director of Hockey Operation for the Condors, sought the services of Liam Huculak when he finished a four-year collegiate career at Colgate in 2007 but the 6-foot-5, 220-pound power forward decided to start his pro career in Idaho, only to be traded to Columbia, S.C. after just two games.
When Columbia requested and was granted a voluntary suspension for 2008-09 one of the first calls Huculak received came from Bartlett, who was once again trying to convince him to play in Bakersfield.
This time the sales pitch, which included the fact that the Condors were now the ECHL affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks, worked.
“I heard great things about the organization and with Bakersfield being an affiliate for Anaheim I think it’s a good opportunity for me,” Huculak said of what sealed the deal this time. “Obviously, I want to work my way up and move up in hockey and I think Bakersfield is a good place to do that.”
Bartlett has kept an eye on Huculak for more than a dozen years.
“Actually, he was a student at my brother’s junior high school,” Bartlett said. “We used to talk about him when he was 12, 13 years old. Lethbridge is a small enough city, you keep track of players.
“He was one of the first guys we set our sights on and started phoning him. We were looking for his toughness, but the good thing is he can play as well. That makes a big difference.”
Huculak is a guy one will notice on the ice, not so much on the score sheet.
During four years at Colgate he had a total of 17 points in 133 games. Yet, he was an assistant captain as a junior and captain as a senior.
Last season he racked up 16 points in 55 games and 100 minutes in penalties.
“I’m a third-line grinder, a power forward,” Huculak said of his role. “Offensive has never really been my thing but I try to chip in a few points. (Scoring) is a bonus, obviously. My job is to forecheck hard, crash and bang the other team.”
A role Condors coach Marty Raymond expects Huculak to perform well.
“Liam is the guy we probably didn’t have here over the last two or three years,” Raymond said. “The guy who can play the game, be physical, hit hard and, if given a chance, will fight anybody he has to.
“His goal, No. 1, is to get to the American League, so he certainly is driven. I don’t have to tell him anything. He’s also a great guy in the room. Guys love him. Over the course of a long season he’s going to be an important player.”
Although fighting is not allowed in college, Huculak proved a willing participant during his rookie pro season.
“I think I had 18 fighting majors last year, it was a different transition for me,” Huculak said. “I fought a bit in junior. Obviously, with my size and the way I play it’s going to happen and I don’t mind it.
“I wouldn’t consider myself just a fighter. There’s really not room for just that in the game any more. You have to be able to play now.”
Huculak has three fighting majors through the first five games.
“I’m willing to help pump the team up,” he said of dropping the gloves. “It’s going to happen. The way I play I expect it.”
What one might not expect is the tough guy has a soft side. He’s been labeled a goof in the dressing room and is a bit of a ham. He majored in environmental geography with a minor in theater.
As a senior he was in a one-act play, The Dishwashers, and he’s already been in one television commercial for the Condors.
“It was a small theater (at Colgate) but the whole hockey team was there watching. It was nerve-wracking for sure,” he said of his acting debut.
As for the television commercials, Huculak said those were easy and he looked forward to doing more of them.
“I’m a natural,” he said with a laugh.