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Stockton Heat shut out the Grand Rapids Griffins 4-0

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:

Mangiapane Jankowski Hathaway
Klimchuk Hrivik Foo
Shinkaruk Lomberg Gazdic
Cramarossa Pelley Poirier
Wotherspoon Andersson
Kylington Goloubef
Ollas-Mattsson Robak
Rittich

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.

    • McRib

      Poirier on the fourth line? That’s fairly questionable. He scored a goal and had four shots so that’s a major positive considering, but why would Gazdic be ahead of Poirier? Let another anyone else for that matter. Guess he Flames are just starting him slowly.

    • Stockton's Finest

      I think this was no more than Huska changing up lines. Only the top line has been producing through the first 2 games. So my guess it was a wake up call to the team.

  • Alberta Ice

    Great enthusiasm by the radio announcer when Stockton scooooooooooooooooooooooores. Great highlight reel. Rittich looked very good and Jano is keeping it up for an NHL recall. Hope all the team is having some good fun as they play and learn to be better at their sport. Thanks for these updates Stockton’s Finest.

  • Bring Back Brathwaite

    Really great work, are you planning on doing every home game?

    Any chance you could do those of us watching at home a steady and start dropping subtle hints to Kisker that he needs to cool it on the calls? He seems like a great guy and he is a terrific twittter follow but I have a really hard time streaming games and watching highlights when he is calling. Excitement = appreciated, every play like World Cup soccer finals = unwatchable.

  • HAL MacInnis

    Jankowski’s time with the Flames can’t come soon enough. He’s ready, right friggin’ now. I think he should center Bennett and perhaps Sam can find his scoring touch again. Glad he’s proving himself everynight.

    Nice to hear Foo is coming around and hopefully Rittich can be our Flames backup soon. Mike Smith should be a good mentor for Rittich before the torch is passed.

    Thanks, Stockton’s Finest, for doing that thing you do.

  • freethe flames

    Do you ever go to the other barns in California? (Are you going to San Jose?)
    It was nice to see the other lines contribute; I know Shinkaruk scored and had another glorious chance set up by Janko but how did he play? What about Klimchuk? Great work as usual.

    • Stockton's Finest

      Hey Free! Besides his goal, we didn’t really notice Shinkaruk. As for Klimchuk, he had a few nice moments, but for the 3rd game, he was forgettable.

      We are not going to San Jose on Wednesday. Weekdays are tough for away games. We may try to catch a Friday night game at the Tank, but with Bay Area traffic, it takes about 2 hours to get there.

      San Diego is 7 hours away, Ontario 6. Bakersfield is the closest at 3 hours, but the only weekend games down there are at the end of the month when we are in Vegas (catching a Golden Knights game).

  • McRib

    Watching teams filled with young players like Vegas, New Jersey, Colorado, Toronto, etc have surprising early success this season it really makes me question Calgary’s decision to go with old outdated vets like Brouwer, Bartkowski, Glass, Stone even more.

    People go on and on about how “rushing players” is detrimental to future success, but young NHLers have never been more prepared historically then they’re now. For every player who was ruined because they were rushed to the NHL, I can give you two players who were ruined because they were never given a chance.

    The Flames have drafted so well lately and I think they have assembled a stable of good young prospects, but I truly hope they can get over this need of over-ripening every young player before they give them a shot in the NHL.

  • bcwallce@shaw.ca

    Used to know Austin’s mom in a previous life in Calgary and in Scottsdale. Tragedy about his dad. His mom became a motivational speaker among other things. Rooting for this young man.

  • FuNky ANGER

    Hey Stockton do you feel that hockey in that market will succeed? I ask because looking at the game sheets other markets draw 4000-7000 per game, while Stockton consistently draws 2500 fans or so. Do they usually draw more and I’ve just been checking out the low games? I hate how the Flames always seem to be moving the farm club every few years or so and it would be nice for some stability on that front.

    • Stockton's Finest

      When the Thunder were here, they consistently drew between 5,000 and 7,000. So is it a sustainable market? Yes it is. But there are people where I live 20 minutes away who don’t even know the team exists.

      This is year 3 for the Heat. Every year it seems they try something different. This year they moved Saturday games from 7:30 to 6:00 pm. Sunday games moved from 4 to 5. And weeknight games remained a 7 pm start.

      Attendance seems to rise as the year goes on. And theme night’s (bear toss, Star Wars night, etc.) also bring in the crowds.

      Marketing could be better. For instance, the team makes a lot of community appearances that do not get covered on TV or radio. There is no local radio station that carries the games. A few spots on electronic billboards in town and a few radio ads but nothing else. FB, Twitter, and their website. They need to get the word out about the team.

      That is why I suggested a Flames pre-season game in Stockton or maybe a skate at the rink when the Flames come into town. It would generate a lot of buzz for the team. They started bringing in local restaurants to market Stockton chefs. How about cross promotion? Have the players do some local radio. Not everyone has FB, Twitter, or Instagram (I do not have any of these). Cancelling the FanFest was not a good move. Having only 1 pre-season game doesn’t help either.

      My seats are 8 rows back in the end zone. Most nights I move down to the 3rd row without issue (Mrs. Finest doesn’t like to be next to the glass). Opening night had more people than reported, maybe around 4,500. But the next night, against SJ, maybe 3,000. On a Saturday. And SJ has a lot fans in the Valley.

      Is there hope? Yes. Can things be done to increase the base? Yes.

      Ticket prices are not the issue. $15 a ticket walk up price for what cost me $150 when I come to Calgary in February.

      So if I am the guy in charge (are you listening Stockton Heat Management), you need to increase marketing and get exposure to this team. Once there, you will have a good time. But you need to get them there. Open up some morning or weekend skates. More fan-player functions. More giveaways. Once fans get into the barn, they spend money. And then they tell friends. And they tell friends. And then you consistently have a half filled barn at least.

      • freethe flames

        Do you think the clunky schedule hurts as well? It seems like that there are lot of days off between games; more of a college schedule to the AHL rather than a pro schedule.(Is the team out of the news fro too long?)

        • Stockton's Finest

          It could be hurting it, but the AHL is mainly a Wednesday to Sunday league. Out of the 34 home games this year, only 6 are on Wednesday. But all are standard start times. I don’t remember the ECHL schedule for the Thunder being that different.
          They play some odd road games and times: in December they have a 10:30 am game in Bakersfield on a Wednesday. When the Flames come to SJ in December, they do a Barracuda/Heat – Flames/Sharks day at the Tank. 1:15 start for the AHL, empty the 4,000+ from the barn, and then start the NHL game at 7:30. I need to see how I can get this day off to see this game. I work fairly close to the Tank. Maybe I have an “job site meeting” that day.
          I would say being out of the news would hurt if there was news about the team. There simply is a void in media coverage. That is the main issue here.

      • BlueMoonNigel

        What role, if any, does Stockton being a so-called “unsafe city” have on attendance at Hat games?

        I ask because the idiots who host early morning sports radio here never tire of telling us how dangerous and violent Stockton is. I have started to play a game when the idiots start talking about Stockton the city as to how long it will take Boomer to call Stockton the murder capital of America.

        Based on what the idiots say, it seems that I can pack heat while attending Heat home games just in case I have to protect my life, liberty , beer and hotdog should gunplay break out.

        Finally, is it true that when the Heat are at home and score a goal, the rink celebration is like a Muslim celebration where automatic weapons are fired into the air?

      • FuNky ANGER

        So when the ECHL was in Stockton they drew 5000-7000 but when the AHL comes to town which is a better league they draw 1/2 to 1/3 less people? Did they not inform the fan base that when the Thunder were leaving that you guys were getting another team from a better league with almost NHL calibre players?