Among the twelve forwards a hockey coach has to pencil into his lineup every game there are going to be the names that will stick out because more often than not they find their way on to the score sheet.
Then there are the names that coaches love to pencil in because they do all the necessary things that aren’t flashy but are required to have a competitive team.
One of the names that can be associated with that is Luke Moncada. The third-year forward of the North Bay Battalion plays a number of key roles on this club: veteran, grinder, penalty killer, face-off specialist and more.
“He’s a kid that always brings a great attitude,” is how Battalion Assistant Coach Adam Dennis describes Moncada.
“Wherever you put him in the lineup he brings a solid work ethic and he does the things that not everybody wants to do.”
Especially, for a guy in his third year, when it feels as if this is the make or break it year for a lot of Ontario Hockey League players, who mostly want to show that they can fill the net in the hopes of earning that elusive entry-level deal with a National Hockey League Club. But with attitudes changing and analytics taking over the game, a lot of scouts and general managers value how much effort it takes for a player to excel at all the other facets of a game.
“He blocks shots, he plays the hard minutes defensively,” says Dennis. “And it takes a lot of leadership to do that. Kids today all want to be the forty-goal scorers and don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Luke would want to be a forty-goal scorer to. But he’s really taken a lot of pride in the roles that we’ve given him and he’s done a great job with them as well.”
For his own part, Moncada is aware of how fitting a niche role can continually earn you ice time in the OHL.
“Everybody wants to come to this league and score a bunch of goals,” says Moncada echoing Dennis’ sentiments.
“But the reality is that everyone has a role on their team. When you play Minor Midget, you have a big role there and you play a lot of minutes, and sometimes a lot of that changes when you come to the OHL.
“Sometimes guys are going to come up and keep scoring goals, but at the end of the day there are roles that need to be filled.”
One of those analytical stats the management looks at is puck possession, and starting with the puck leads to more opportunities, rather then if you are chasing the puck off the draw.
Entering Thursday’s game (February 7, 2019) against the Flint Firebirds, Moncada was winning 44.6% of his face-offs, the second-best winning percentage on his team among the regular centres. In the entire Ontario Hockey League, he ranks 36th (among centres who have taken at least 450 draws) with that winning percentage, getting the puck 318 times on a total of 713 draws.
The total amount of times Moncada has been asked to step into the face-off circle is the 23rd most of any player in the league. It’s also the fifth most times a player of his age/draft year has been asked to take a face-off and it’s significant because it shows how much the Battalion coaching staff trusts him to get the puck, whether it’s at even strength, or on the penalty kill; another role that he has made part of his game, and what makes him valuable to the Battalion.
Looking at the numbers since the beginning of the New Year give an indication of what Moncada brings to the team when they are short-handed. Since the start of January, the PK had allowed 16 goals against on 52 chances giving them a success rate of just 69%. But for Moncada, of those 16 goals scored against, he was only on the ice for seven of those goals, three of which came late in a 7-0 blowout loss to the Sudbury Wolves.
Even in times when there are opportunities for him to chip in offensively while shorthanded, (such as during the 4-0 win over Kingston on January 27th when he got a loose puck at his own blue line, burst down the wing with speed and realizing an opposing player was closing on the backcheck, he decided to slow up and just hold the puck in the offensive zone) Moncada says his number one job is to neutralize the offence from the opposing team.
“When you get a break offensively it goes through your head that you’re going to want to try and score a goal,” says Moncada, “but at the end of the day you’re out there to keep the puck out of your net.”
It was a summertime deal that brought Moncada north. On Canada Day 2017 while most hockey fans were enjoying a national holiday and checking their smartphones to see what kind of activity was happening in the NHL’s free agent frenzy period, it was the North Bay Battalion and the Guelph Storm that were orchestrating a deal that would change the focus and the direction of four players.
Heading to the Gateway City were Luke Moncada and Luke Burghardt, going south were former 1st round draft pick Zach Poirier and San Jose Sharks 6th round draft pick Mark Shoemaker.
“There were some things that needed to get sorted out with our overage situation, we had too many,” says Dennis, thinking back to the deal, ahead of the 2017-18 season. “With that Moncada was a guy that our scouting staff really thought highly of going into his draft year, he was a big body that just kind of plays inside our system.”
“Obviously it’s a huge change in your life getting drafted in the OHL,” says Moncada.
“You move away from home, you’re playing in a new city. Then hearing that you’re getting traded to North Bay and go through the whole process again of meeting new billets and fitting in, moving to a new community. So for me, that was a big shock, but I’m really grateful that it happened. As a person and a player, I’ve really enjoyed it here.”
Moncada gave the team some depth that they sorely needed after missing the post-season in 2016-17. He says he joined a locker room of hungry players, and ironically he was just as eager to experience post-season hockey as the Battalion and the Storm were two of the four OHL teams that didn’t make the playoffs in that year.
“I really was excited to get to a team that was ready to get going and looking to play playoff hockey. I wanted to make things happen for my new team,” he says.
“It’s obviously a lot more fun when you can compete and play in the playoffs.”
That’s something high on the to-do list for Moncada and the rest of the Troops this year. Moncada is doing his best to get some of the newer Battalion to that high compete level. He has been paired on lines with rookies and second-year players for the majority of the season and he says it’s a role he enjoys.
“The young guys have a tough time learning [about different roles and how everybody fits a specific part of the team], but once you adjust and you realize that you have to pull your weight and pull the rope to help the team win…they learn pretty quick.”