High rollers

Phillip Brents

Fri January 15, 2016 10:37am

The arrival of the San Diego Gulls of the American Hockey League has definitely pumped up interest in the sport of hockey – both ice and inline – in the San Diego region. The Gulls serve as the top minor league affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks of the National Hockey League and feature top draft picks and players who have played in the NHL on their roster.
The Gulls roared out to a 7-1 start in their new nest at the Valley View Casino Center to push the excitement level of fans even higher.
Not surprisingly, player turnout for the nine Sweetwater Union High School District roller hockey teams has been good, with an upsurge of interest partly due to on-campus recruiting and the presence of the new Gulls professional team.
The Otay Ranch High School roller hockey team is bursting at the seams with players this season, in fact. The Mustangs faced off the 2015-16 season with a full complement of 16 players on their roster. The team hopes to use both numbers and talent to capture this year’s Mesa League championship.
“Our goals are to win the Mesa League title and win our first playoff game — at least,” said head coach Jose Castro, who takes over the reins of the Otay Ranch program this season.
Castro comes to the Otay Ranch program with invaluable experience both as a player and a coach within the Sweetwater district. He played four years at Southwest High School (2005-09). He received a scholarship to play at CSU Northridge but elected to stay home and play at San Diego State University. He played ice hockey for SDSU’s club team for two years before leaving to study abroad in Madrid.
Castro played hockey in Spain for three months with a club team there. When he returned to this country, he elected to play soccer his last two years at SDSU, though he served as an assistant coach with Southwest’s roller hockey team.
“I have a passion for the game and like to help young adults reach places where they could never imagine reaching,” Castro explained of his desire to pursue a coaching career. “I started like all these kids in the South Bay, not knowing how to skate and on all fours (while learning how to skate). But with a strong work ethic, I was able to get better and played every position for my team (at Southwest).”
The head coaching position at Otay Ranch, traditionally one of the stronger teams in the Sweetwater district, opened this year and Castro interviewed for the job.
“It was instant chemistry with the school’s assistant principal and athletic director,” Castro explained. “The school and parents have been very supportive of this program knowing that I am new to the school and a first-time hockey head coach. I believe in this group of students and I am totally invested in being successful yet humble at the same time. They are a great hockey group and have responded well to my program and system. We will have our roadblocks, but I am confident that we can overcome anything on or off the rink.”
So far, it’s been a highly successful opening act for Castro and his new team.
The Mustangs rolled to a 3-0 start in play against fellow Sweetwater district teams to face off the new season. Otay Ranch defeated defending South Bay League champion Castle Park, 15-2, on Dec. 2 in non-league play and then defeated Hilltop, 5-1, in the teams’ Mesa League opener on Dec. 8 and followed with a 10-0 victory against league rival Bonita Vista on Dec. 15.
Top players on Otay Ranch this season include senior Ricky Portilla, who wears the captain’s “C” on his jersey this season, along with junior Aaron Marientes, senior David Mendez and sophomore Paul Chavez.
Freshman Sean Devaney tops the Mustangs’ list of impact newcomers along with junior John Gentile and senior Nick Trottier. Sophomore goaltender J.T. Santiago has been a standout between the pipes.
Devaney, who has ice hockey experience with the Jr. Gulls program, made a dramatic debut for the Mustangs with five goals in his first varsity game while Portilla led Otay Ranch overall with six points in the game on two goals and four assists.
Overall, nine players picked up points for the Mustangs in the season opening game.
Otay Ranch became the first district team to pick up two wins to start the season when it defeated Hilltop in a key game for both teams.
Marientes led Otay Ranch with two goals while senior Hector Sanchez had a goal and assist and Portilla and Trottier each scored one goal. Castro called the win over Hilltop “a great win for this team.”
“Our goal is to win our league and it all started with (the win over) Hilltop,” Castro said. “Overall we played well, but there is still a lot of stuff we need to work on. My defenders need to fix minor details going forward and my second and third line players did a great job of hustling and giving us a shot to win and keep Hilltop at one goal. Our goalie had some key saves. We need to step it up to put us on the right path leading into the winter break.”
The Mustangs resume play Jan. 11. It should be an exciting second half of the season for Castro and his team — and, potentially, a very rewarding one.