Cameron Bartkoski was looking for a place to play junior hockey when he was released by the Lone Star Brahmas after the North American Hockey League team’s training camp.
He found it by joining two former Dallas Stars Elite 18U teammates, who had already transitioned to playing in the northeast with the Philadelphia Little Flyers of the Eastern Hockey League Premier Division.
Alex Ochterbeck, Cale Coor and Bartkoski all live with the same billet family across the Delaware River in Blackwood, New Jersey, while thriving with what has been the EHL’s top team right from the start of the 2016-17 season.
The three former youth AAA teammates are just some of the Texas transplants making an impact in Pennsylvania. Former Dallas-area opponents Peter Hatton and Nate Rogers are also on the Little Flyers.
Bartkoski received positive reviews from Ochterbeck and Coor when he needed to make a quick decision prior to the start of this season. They praised the team and told him they were having fun, but Bartkoski never could have expected the success he found when he arrived in Philadelphia.
“I really don’t think anybody can expect to win 30 games in a row, especially in hockey when the bounces can go any way,” Bartkoski said of the streak the Little Flyers embarked upon immediately after losing the season opener in overtime. “I expected us to be good, but not this successful.”
Bartkoski credits a working relationship between Little Flyers coach/general manager Rocky Russo and his former Dallas Stars coach, Adam Robbins, in helping to build the pipeline from the southwest to the Eastern League. Russo maintained his Texas connections after coaching the Amarillo Bulls in the NAHL and was on hand looking for the last few players on his roster when Bartkoski performed well at Brahmas camp.
“Coming in, I knew Rocky would put us in championship shape and I think that’s where we’re headed,” Bartkoski said. “That’s definitely one of our team goals.”
The goal seems reasonable based on the way the Little Flyers have dominated much of the season.
The Little Flyers are 35-3-2 while outscoring opponents by an average of 4.38-1.5 per game. They have scored at least 29 goals more and allowed at least 19 less than every other rival in the 17-team league.
Hatton, the EHL Premier’s third-leading scorer, leads the team in assists (38) and points (54).
“Peter was our third-line center last year when he kind of killed penalties and worked in a checking role,” Russo said. “He worked really hard over the summer to add muscle to his frame.
“He took on the responsibility of being one of the captains for our team. … He still does the same things he did last year for us as far as being responsible defensively and killing penalties, but he’s been able to evolve his game to become a scorer and very much a complete player.”
Rogers and Ochterbeck have each contributed a dozen goals.
Coor joins Bartkoski on the stingy defense.
Bartkoski is the defensive unit’s second-leading scorer with five goals and 20 assists, with half those assists coming on the team’s potent power play.
“It definitely starts with our goaltending,” Bartkoski said. “Sam [Kany] and Joe [Giacobbo] have been great this year. We’ve clicked pretty well defensively. We work on breakouts two, three times a week. We work on our forwards running routes and moving pucks.
“I think our offense kind of flows from our defense. We’re able to generate offense. I think we have some defensemen who can move the puck well and another aspect of that is our power play.”
That defensive corps is interchangeable.
“I don’t play with the same D partner,” Bartkoski said. “A lot of people see that as a bad thing because you have to adjust to everyone, but the way our team works is everyone is flexible enough to play with a different D partner here and there.
“I think everyone knows each other’s tendencies and capabilities. That way, we’re able to play well together, no matter who it is."
Bartkoski credits his Dallas teammates and current housemates with helping him make a smooth adjustment to playing away from home for the first time.
“I think the biggest thing is adjusting to a new lifestyle of kind of living on your own,” said Bartkoski, a high school graduate who is taking some online courses. “I’m an only child. I actually live with Alex and Cale in the same billet house and the billet family has three kids, so they’ve got a pretty large house.
“We definitely have a lot more free time and we take advantage of that free time, whether it’s staying late after practice or staying on the ice and just having the right mindset instead of just going home and sitting around and watching TV, which I could definitely be a victim of.”
Russo said it is a commitment he has seen before.
“We always [get] not only good hockey players, but good character young men when we get them from that program,” Russo said. “It’s a no-brainer for our club when we’re searching for new blood on our roster each year.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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