The Stockton Heat put out the unwelcome mat last night as the defending Calder Cup champs, the Grand Rapids Griffins, made their only visit to California’s Central Valley this year.
There were a few lineup changes, as Marek Hrivik and Adam Ollas-Mattsson made their debuts, while Brett Findlay and Josh Healey were treated to some free popcorn. Also, David Rittich got his first start of the year.
Rittich led the way with a 36-save shutout, and all four lines produced at least one point, as the Heat blanked the Griffins 4-0.
Lines were as follows:
Game Highlights with Brandon Kisker on the call:
Also, check out www.stocktonheat.com for game details and after-game quotes.
There was a season ticket holder event after the game where we met the team, got player signatures, and snuck in a question or two.
I came into this game wanting to key in on a few players: Spencer Foo, Mark Jankowski, Emile Poirier, and the defense. Once I heard that Rittich was in the crease, he, too, became a focus. When I found out that Hrivik was playing, I added him to the list.
Spencer Foo: What a difference a week makes. He seems to be more aware of the situation. He was parked in front of the net more last night, and has some toughness to him, as he went into the corners to dig out pucks. I asked him after the game how this compares to his college days and he mentioned it was faster “for sure”. Both Mrs. Finest and I told him we are anxious to see his first goal, and it will come soon based on his play. His reply: “I am anxious, too.” I expect we will see his first goal by the end of next week’s game.
Mark Jankowski: Mrs. Finest and I were talking about Mark during the second intermission and Mrs. Finest commented on how he is “more polished and patient” this year. When he begins a rush from his own end, he sees more of the ice and is looking at multiple options to take: pass, shoot, continue to skate, where to go with the puck. He was planted on the side of the blue paint all alone when he scored. I was amazed that he was left unattended for that long. Ho-hum… another game-winning goal for the man who will be in Calgary by the end of the year.
Emile Poirier: Even though he got bumped to the fourth line last night, he came to play. He was playing fast, chasing pucks, getting in shot lanes, and grinding in the corners. His goal came as a result of him forechecking and staying with the play. He earned second star status for his work in the game.
The Defense: Last night could have been the best game the defense has played in some time. They listened to me when I said to clear the zone and stop the cross-ice passes! They took their time and cleared the puck with purpose, not just haphazardly without looking. Rasmus Andersson and Tyler Wotherspoon are the perfect top pair and they played like it, communicating with each other, getting involved with the offense, and supporting their goalie by clearing the crease and any rebounds. There were not many second chances allowed.
Oliver Kylington and Cody Goloubef are like the angel and devil on either shoulder. They balance each other out, with Kylington more offensively-minded and Goloubef there to back him up. Kylington’s goal was a textbook snipe, as he joined the play knowing he had backend help and not allowing an odd-man rush the other way. Adam Ollas-Mattsson and Colby Robak were steady, exactly what you want from bottom pair. When the defense went in to pinch, the forwards rotated back to protect the blue line.
Marek Hvirik: This is my first opportunity to see him. He seems to have good speed and vision to make a compelling second line center. A no-look, behind the back pass to Foo in the slot was a good opening act in seeing the abilities he will bring to this team. I look forward to seeing more of him, and he will fill Jankowski’s skates on the top line when Janko heads north.
David Rittich: I have said for months that I believe Rittich is a better goalie than Gillies. He is more active, a bit faster, can move the puck, and doesn’t allow as many rebounds as his counterpart. It may be a stretch here, but I can chalk up the improved defense to him. It just appeared (my opinion here) that the team plays better in front of him. I saw him make a kick save in front of us that I do not think Jon Gillies could have made.
Austin Carroll (footnote): Austin was a “healthy scratch” for the third straight game. He was one of the three available players during second intermission autograph session (the others being Oleg Yevenko and the Bearded Stork: Hunter Smith). Mrs. Finest asked if it was too personal to ask why they weren’t playing tonight. His response: “Yes. It is too personal.” Nothing more. After about 30 seconds of awkward silence, he clarified that they were just healthy scratches. And you can tell he is NOT happy about it. It wasn’t like he had a bad preseason, so there is something more to this story.
This was a team win. Good sound defense, sustained pressure in the offensive zone, burying chances when presented, and stellar goaltending.
The Heat take the 90 minute bus ride to San Jose for a mid-week tilt before coming back to the friendly (albeit small) crowds for a weekend two-step with the San Diego Gulls.