Utah Owls LW Diego Garcia is having a very strong season. The 26-year-old winger is in his second season with the Owls, having been demoted by the New York Night early in the 2017 season. Garcia had a surprisingly solid season with Utah last year, posting 11 goals and 22 assists in 45 games. This season, he’s done even better; he leads the team in points, posting __ goals and __ assists already this season.
You might think that with these kinds of numbers, Garcia would be a prime candidate for a mid-season callup. But no promotion has been forthcoming, at least so far. And that’s left Garcia wanting out.
“When they sent me down, they told me they wanted to see more consistent effort and performance,” Garcia said. “So I go down and do a great job, and I’m still rotting away? That’s crap. If New York’s not going to use me, they should send me somewhere that will.”
Garcia has a rather checkered reputation in the SHL. He’s considered a decent offensive talent, a good skater with a nice passing touch. But he’s always been lackadaisical on defense, is not known as a hard worker, and is well known as a malcontent when things aren’t going his way.
He broke in with the then-Dakota Rapids as a third-line winger. He lost his starting spot to Vonnie McLearen, however, and became deeply disenchanted with coach Harold Engellund and the organization. After upsetting the coaching staff with his unwillingness to practice, he was traded to the Hamilton Pistols at the trading deadline in 2015.
Garcia played more regularly in Hamilton, recording 8 points in 33 games during the 2016 season. But the Pistols coaches soured on him, noting that he didn’t seem engaged when the game wasn’t close and, again, he showed inconsistent effort during practices. As a result, he was sent to New York as part of the Rod Remington deal. He seemed to click with the Night; their uptempo, offense-oriented style suited his approach, and then-coach Preston Rivers didn’t care much about practice. Garcia recorded 2 goals and 13 assists in 21 games, and seemed to be on track for more opportunities in 2017.
Garcia was outraged, therefore, when he found himself exiled to the bench under new coach Nick Foster in 2017. “I earned my shot with the way I played,” Garcia fumed to reporters. “But bring in a new coach, and all that goes right in the garbage and it’s like I’m a rookie trying out all over again. I’m not here for that [expletive].” Garcia also alleged that he was being discriminated against because of his Hispanic origins. “The Lazy Mexican is the oldest stereotype in the book,” the winger told reporters. “Because I don’t look like your typical hockey player, I’ve got to work ten times as hard to get credit. I’m sick of it.”
For his part, Owls coach Wiley Kiyotie is a Garcia fan. “I know the stories about him,” the coach said, “but I’ve never seen it. He’s always worked hard and played great for me. Diego’s always done whatever’s been asked of him, and he’s been a great player for me. He has a great nose for offensive, and he shows explosive bursts of speed. I’m glad he’s on the team.”
Garcia stressed that he has no issue with Kiyotie or the Owls. Rather, he’s anxious to get another crack at the big time. “I don’t want to spend the rest of my career stuck in the minors,” he said. “I know that I’m capable of doing a better job than some of those guys that have SHL jobs. But it’s obvious that New York has given up on me. So let me go before I get too old and lose my shot.”
Foster, for his part, claims not to have any animus against Garcia. “I’ll admit, Diego didn’t make much of an impression when he was here,” the Night boss said. “I’m always open to second-chance stories, though. But where’s the opening? He’s proven that he doesn’t want to be a reserve who only gets in a handful of games. But all of our starting forward slots are basically locked down. I’m not going to argue that he doesn’t deserve another chance, but I don’t have anywhere to put him.”
Night GM Royce McCormick declined to state whether he would accommodate Garcia’s trade demand. “We’re always looking for deals to make our team better,” McCormick said. “And if we see a way to improve that allows Diego to go somewhere, I’ll pursue that. But we’re not just going to deal him for the sake of moving him. We’re not in the charity business.”