It has been a few weeks since I last checked in. In that time frame, the Heat have gone 3-1, with home wins over San Jose and San Diego, while splitting a pair on the road against Cleveland. In between those games, Mrs. Finest and I enjoyed our One Game Call-Up to see David Rittich steal a point against the Boston Bruins. A few fans recognized us in the crowd and we enjoyed our time after the game with Mickey O.
Now it’s time to get back to my regular gig, reporting on the Stockton Heat.
MARCH 3: BAKERSFIELD
Saturday was Star Wars night at the barn, playing their Battle of Alberta rivals, the Bakersfield Condors. Something Something Something Dark Side. Over 7,700 fans came out to cheer for the… what is the good side called?? I don’t know anything about Star Wars.
Coach Ryan Huska had most everyone back at his disposal to field the best possible lineup against the last place Condors. Here is what he sent out on Saturday.
|Gazdic (A)||Pelley (C)||Carroll|
Tyler Parsons was back from injury and in net for the first time in a month. Cody Goloubef, and his bronze medal and new NHL contract, was also back in the lineup. I listed Ryan Lomberg on the wing, even though he was introduced as center. Both he and Mike McMurtry are listed as centers, but Lomberg is a winger.
The force was not with Parsons, as he gave up two goals on four shots in the first 90 seconds and just like that, Stockton was in a hole. The Heat capitalized on two power play goals from Morgan Klimchuk and Spencer Foo to even up the score after one. Bakersfield outshot the home team 14-6 in the period.
The second period saw Parsons give up another three goals while Rod Pelley notched his second of the season to make the score 5-3 after two. The Heat failed to score on a two-man advantage that lasted over a minute. Shot totals were even at 12 apiece.
Andrew Mangiapane became the first Stockton Heat player to register 20+ goals in multiple seasons as he sniped a shot from just below the circle in the first minute of the third period to cut the lead to one. Even with another five-on-three power play, and holding Bakersfield to four shots, the Heat could not find the back of the net. An empty net goal by the Condors with less than a minute sealed their fate, as the Heat fell victim to the Evil Empire 6-4.
MARCH 4: SAN DIEGO
After a crushing defeat to a last place team, Stockton got right back at it for their regular season finale against the second place San Diego Gulls. The Heat came into the game in fourth place, just .001% ahead of the Texas Stars and .008% behind Ontario.
Surprisingly, Huska started Parsons again on Sunday. He switched Emile Poirier and Lomberg, and he substituted Josh Healey for Colby Robak.
It was déjà vu all over again as Parsons gave up a goal 59 seconds into the game. He proceeded to give up a power play goal five minutes later and another goal at 10:53 of the first. Time for the hook; enter Ryan Faragher. The change in net sparked the offense while settling the defense. The Heat struck twice in the final 10 minutes of the first with goals by Mangiapane and Klimchuk.
The teams traded goals in the second period. The Gull goal was a redirection off Goloubef’s skate early in the middle frame. Tyler Wotherspoon answered midway through the period with a seeing-eye wrister through traffic. The Heat pinged the post on three shots during the period and outplayed the sea birds with a 19-7 shot differential.
Stockton came out and controlled play in the third period, looking for the equalizer. They found it when Brett Pollock, coming out of the box after serving time for a hooking violation, took a breakaway pass from Klimchuk and deposited a nice backhander top shelf for the tying goal. They pressed hard for the win in regulation but could not tickle the twine. Time to go get that extra point.
The Heat headed to overtime where the home team dictated play, outshooting the visitors 3-0, but with no success, so on to the shootout.
Misses by Mangiapane and Colin Smith were matched by stops by Faragher. Rasmus Andersson was the third shooter and beat goalie with a sick move.
Faragher could not make the save and we went to more rounds. Misses by McMurtry and Foo were matched by misses on the other end. Finally, Hunter Shinkaruk came in fast and beat the goalie high stick side to take the lead. With the crowd buzzing and needing a stop to win, Faragher stood tall and shut down the final shooter to seal the 5-4 victory that sent the Heat faithful home happy! This was the third come-from-behind win in the last nine games.
The entire team came out flat on Saturday. You would expect a team that was rested and playing in front of one of the biggest crowds of the season would have come out fired up. The first two goals sucked the air out of the building and the team. It was not until the third period that they played well but it was too late. On Sunday, they came out flat again. Luckily, the goalie change ignited the team and from that point they carried the play.
If the Heat want to go deep into the playoffs, they need to improve on power play. They went two-for-10 on Saturday and one-for-seven on Sunday. On Saturday they failed to score on two five-on-three man advantages, both over a minute long. They continued to look for the perfect opening instead of shooting at the net and looking for a tip or rebound. Both Foo and Mangiapane were constantly in front, but the puck hardly found its way there. It spent more time rotating over the top than heading to the crease.
With Sunday’s win and results from the other teams fighting for a playoff spot, the Heat regained third place with a winning percentage of .578, just ahead of Ontario (.577) and Texas (.566). Stockton has 17 games remaining, nine of them at the friendly confines of Stockton Arena. Of the remaining eight road games, the Heat have a two-game trip to Manitoba and play three games in four days on a Texas swing (back-to-back against San Antonio and a game against Texas). The remaining three are all in California.