October 30, 2012

Juniors Journal: Orszulak leading hometown Pics' surge

By Shawn Hutcheon

Most, if not all, junior hockey coaches and scouts scour rinks far and wide for talent that will help take their clubs to the top of the mountain. The Eastern Junior Hockey League’s Springfield Jr. Pics had the luxury of finding forward Austin Orszulak in their own building. The native of Springfield, Mass. grew up watching the Pics and dreamed of someday putting on the red, white and blue. 

Austin Orszulak leads the EJHL with 24 points. (Photo: Springfield Pics)

“I grew up in Springfield and even though there were other junior teams for me to consider, everything I wanted is right here for me,” Orszulak said. 

After 14 EJHL games, Orszulak has emerged as the circuit’s leading scorer with nine goals and 15 assists, totaling 24 points. His club has won seven of its last eight games in which, the gritty forward has posted six goals and ten assists. It is no coincidence that the Pics have risen to third place in the league’s South Division and trail second place Bay State by one point and first place Jersey Hitmen by four. 

“We’re playing good hockey right now,” Orszulak said. “We have a great group of guys. We’re a family and have really good chemistry 

“We’re not a spotlight seeking team. We have skill but we’re more of a gritty team. When you play against the Pics, it’ll be a dogfight. You’ll be in for a battle. We approach every week as a four-point weekend. We prepare to battle then let everything take care of itself.”

Orszulak is in his second season with Springfield and credits the coaching staff with his success.

“Coach (Pat) Tabb and Scott Daniels teach you about life and hockey,” Orszulak said. “I’ve learned more from them in my two years with the team than in all my previous years in hockey. They’ve been great to play for.”

The appreciation is mutual, according to coach Pat Tabb, who has long kept his eye on Orszulak.

"Austin is a player I have known of since his youth hockey days, being a local product and growing up at the Olympia," said Tabb. "We started the recruiting process during his senior year, he went on to a post-grad year at Northwood were we continued to track his play. He joined us last season as a proven goal scorer and point producer at each of his stops. Coming into the EJHL is a big step for any player and he spent last season improving his skating and play away from the puck. The last few months of the '11-12 season, he found his scoring touch and ended the season strong."  

Like a lot of hockey players who are not over 6-feet tall, the 5-foot-9 inch skater has heard that he is not big enough to progress up the hockey ladder.

“The game has evolved for smaller guys. You can be 5-foot-9 and play a lot bigger than you are,” Orszulak explained. “I try to emulate my style after (Bruins winger) Brad Marchand. He’s fearless and always in the mix.”

Orszulak has his eye on playing college hockey after he graduates from junior and is drawing considerable interest.

“I definitely want to play in college,” he said. “I’ve spoken to (college) coaches and I’m weighing my options.”

If history dictates anything, it will show that Orszulak has made the correct choices when it comes to his hockey career. He will continue to do so when it comes to choosing the school that is the right fit for him. His next coach will have a gritty, passionate player who loves to play and win. Add in the fact that he’s also got enough skill to lead a league in scoring and life will be very good for Orszulak and any team that gains his services.

Game of the Week

This week’s Game of the Week should size up to be the series of the week. The white hot Springfield Jr. Pics will visit the Garden State for two tilts with the overall Eastern Junior Hockey League leading Jersey Hitmen.

Springfield is in third place in the EJHL’s South Sivision and is four points behind the Hitmen for the division lead.

The Pics have won seven of their last eight games while outscoring their opponents 29-15 during that stretch. Forward Austin Orszulak (Springfield, Mass.) is leading the EHJL in scoring with 24 points while goaltender Linus Lundin leads the league in minutes played (774:05) and shutouts (2). The native of Sweden is also tied for the top spot in wins (8).

The Hitmen began the season firing on all cylinders and have not slowed down. Jersey has the circuit’s number one offense which has lit the lamp 72 times in 14 games. The defense has been just as productive, it has yielded 25 goals against in those same 14 games. The Hitmen lead the league in those categories along with having Tim Clifton second in league scoring. Netminder Tanner Creel has been a wall between the pipes as his .960 goals against average is first among puck stoppers.  

Power Rankings

To read Shawn Hutcheon’s analysis of each team in the top 15, head over to our junior power rankings page.

1. Boston Jr. Bruins (11-5-0-0) 
2. Valley Jr. Warriors (10-5-0-0) 
3. Bay State Breakers (9-5-1-0) 
4. Boston Jr. Rangers (9-1-4-0)
5. Walpole Express (9-2-2-0)

6. Springfield Jr. Pics (9-5-0-0)
7. South Shore Kings (8-5-0-2)      
8. Islanders Hockey Club (6-3-0-0)  
9. Northern Cyclones (8-3-0-1)
10. Connecticut Wolfpack (7-2-0-1)

11. Boston Bandits (7-9-0-0)
12. New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs (5-4-0-1)
13. Connecticut Oilers (4-6-0-2)
14. Laconia Leafs (3-9-2-0)     
15. Portland Jr. Pirates (1-13-0-1) 

Shawn Hutcheon can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ShawnHutcheon.