The Abbotsford Canucks celebrated 90s night on Saturday (Jan. 22), but for the San Diego Gulls (Joe) Murdaca was the case that the Canucks gave them.
Snoop Dogg’s 1994 hit song may not have been played inside the Abbotsford Centre, but the recent goaltender call-up Joe Murdaca backstopped the Canucks to a 5-3 win.
Abbotsford played a sound defensive game, holding the Gulls to just 16 shots and Murdaca earned his first-ever American Hockey League win.
In fact, it was Murdaca’s first-ever AHL game and the 23-year-old has only played six career games in the ECHL. This season he’s played one game with the Wheeling Nailers, Cincinnati Cyclones and Atlanta Gladiators, but a unique COVID-19 situation with the Canucks organization earned him the call to the AHL.
With Vancouver’s Thatcher Demko and Jaroslav Halak both in COVID protocol, the NHL club called up both Spencer Martin and Michael DiPietro from Abbotsford. Those moves left the AHL club with only Arturs Silovs under contract, necessitating the need for Murdaca, who was just officially signed on Monday (Jan. 17).
It’s been a whirlwind week for Murdaca, who said the phone call he got from Abbotsford general manager to join the team was a memorable one.
Murdaca rocking a red and yellow helmet pic.twitter.com/d1mP4DgVAt— Ben Lypka (@BenLypka) January 23, 2022
“That’s probably the best call I’ve ever received in my hockey career,” he said, noting Johnson first contacted him last on Jan. 15.
Murdaca met up with the team in Ontario prior the Canucks game against the Reign that day and flew back to Abbotsford with the team on Tuesday (Jan. 18).
Since then it’s been practices, practices and more practices as he settles into his new role.
“Lots of staying on the ice and taking extra shots and just getting myself ready and improving my game,” he said.
He was also somewhat aware he may be getting the call on Saturday.
“I was told to be ready to play,” he said. “I was pretty pumped up when I was told I was playing.”
Murdaca, who was wearing his old Acadie-Bathurst Titan QMJHL goalie helmet, praised his defence, which allowed him to see the puck and limited opportunities. He also had his nerves calmed a lot when Abbotsford’s Yushiroh Hirano scored just 10 seconds into the game.
He said he will never forget this game or his first-ever AHL win.
“This is huge and a big milestone for me,” he said. “It’s been a lot of bouncing around, meeting new teammates and it can be difficult but getting this opportunity it just helps in my head and knowing I can do this. It’s huge moving forward and I just need to keep doing the things I need to do in order to be ready for these kinds of games.”
“Super happy for [Joe Murdaca]. I just met him today and he’s a very upbeat guy. He loves to compete.— Abbotsford Canucks (@abbycanucks) January 23, 2022
“Being a goalie playing in your first career game, that’s a tough job. There’s a lot of responsibility… He handled everything well.”
🗣️ Ashton Sautner#AbbyCanucks pic.twitter.com/cQCakRk9Qg
The team in front of Murdaca had a solid game on Saturday, opening up a 2-0 lead by the 8:04 mark. Hirano potted the goal 10 seconds into the game, and Ashton Sautner scored his first this season to make it 2-0. San Diego scored at 13:38 of the first and then tied the game up at 17:16 of the second.
However, that lead was short lived as John Stevens took back the lead at 19:01 of the second.
Abbotsford’s Will Lockwood scored his sixth of the year at 11:50 of the third to put the Canucks back up by two, but San Diego’s Alex Limoges replied at 14:44 to make it 4-3. Stevens scored his second of the game and seventh on the season on the power play at 16:21 to add a little insurance for Abbotsford.
Stevens had a three point night and led all Canucks with five shots on goal. Abbotsford’s Noah Juulsen added three assists, while Lockwood, Sautner and Phi Di Giuseppe all had two point nights. Lockwood had a strong game for Abbotsford, playing significant minutes on special teams and also recording three shots on goal.
Abbotsford outshot San Diego 32-16 on the night.
The win is a big one for the Canucks, as they leapfrog San Diego in the standings and now sit in sixth place in the Pacific Division with a record of 13-12-3-1. Abbotsford has won two straight and have now won three of their last four.
The two teams meet again on Sunday (Jan. 23). Face-off is set for 4 p.m.