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San Jose Barracuda douse Stockton Heat’s playoff hopes

The Stockton Heat and San Jose Barracuda came into Saturday’s game tied in points and needing some help from Tucson. If the Roadrunners beat the San Diego Gulls in regulation, the winner of this game would secure the fourth and final spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Two shy of 8,300 came to the barn to cheer on the home team to attempt to push the Heat to the Promised Land.

Even though this was not an official playoff game, it had the feel of one. Play was fast but tight in a scoreless first period, with both teams having their chances but not finding the back of the net. San Jose finally broke through in the second when a blocker save by Jon Gillies was kicked in the slot and the rebound put back behind him. The Barracuda struck again four minutes later when a pass from behind the net found a wide-open Alexander True in the slot who beat Gillies high side glove for his second of the night. The Heat finally broke through San Jose goalie Antoine Bibeau with just over three minutes left when Brett Findlay skated down the left side and found pay dirt to cut the lead to one.

The third period was played tighter than the first two. San Jose was playing aggressive neutral zone defense while trying to extend their lead. Stockton was trying everything they could to get that tying goal. When the Tucson – San Diego in game score was flashed on the screen with about eight minutes left (at that time it was 2-0 Tucson), both teams knew that the winner of this game would most likely get that last spot. The Heat continued to push, pulling Gillies with about 90 seconds left, but could not find that elusive second tally. The season ended with a 2-1 loss.

With 11 games left in the season, I wrote a post outlining what the Heat needed to do to get into the playoffs. They needed 14 points out of 22 points. In the end, if they had secured those 14 points, this article would be completely different. Here are some reasons I think they missed.

  • Rasmus Andersson’s promotion. This is not to blame Andersson for the ails of the team. It is to show the impact of his absence on the team and what he brings to the table. At the time of Andersson’s call up (with 11 games remaining), he was the unofficial leader of this team. He was vocal, he was directing traffic on the ice, he was in everyone’s ear. Andersson and Tyler Wotherspoon were the core of the defense. When he left, there was a sense of “what do we do now?” Wotherspoon could only do as much as he could with what he had to work with. See next bullet for more detail.
  • Defense in shambles. Right after Andersson’s call up, the Heat had a two game set against the Manitoba Moose. In the first of those two games, both Cody Goloubef and Dalton Prout got hurt in the same period. The Heat played most of the first period with only four defensemen and finished the game with only five after Goloubef returned. Both of them would spend time on the scratched list for the next week. This moved Oleg Yevenko from press box to top pairing. Oliver Kylington was teamed with Kayle Doetzel, who was called up from Kansas City, and the bottom pair was Josh Healey and Colby Robak. Then Kylington was called up, which led to another defensemen on an ATO being signed. I don’t even remember his name. [Editor’s Note: It was Cliff Watson.]
  • Goalie swap. Right after that Manitoba trip, Calgary decided they wanted to see more of Gillies and returned David Rittich back to Stockton. That move did not pan out well. Gillies was in a groove with the Heat when he took the trek north. Rittich returned to a less than stellar defense and flopped. He went 2-4-0 in his six games. Granted his defense did not help, but there were definitely shots he needed to stop.
  • Coach Ryan Huska’s refusal to play his back up goalie. When Rittich was fighting through his troubles, Huska continued to trot out his embattled net minder. He had an option: go to the back up that had compiled a 4-1-0 record with a 1.55 GAA, a .949 save percentage, and who had not allowed more than two goals in any game he played. I am talking about Ryan Faragher. What is worse in my mind is, not only he did not get a start after his last win (a 6-2 victory against the Cleveland Monsters on Mar. 11), he was a healthy scratch for the remainder of the year. Between his last start and the end of the year, the Heat went 5-8-0-1.
  • Spencer Foo’s promotion. Right after Rittich’s first game back, a 6-0 drubbing against the last place Cleveland Monsters on Mar. 28, Calgary recalled Spencer Foo. At the time Foo was the hottest player for Stockton, taking his 20 goals with him. The Heat had eight games remaining, with a three game Texas road trip staring them in the face.

The Heat enter the off-season on a disappointing note with the playoffs so close. Next year will bring back some familiar faces along with some new blood in pursuit of the Calder Cup. I will have my off-season recommendations for signings in my next post coming later this week.

On a personal note, this season was fun for both Mrs. Finest and me. Writing for Flames Nation allowed us to look at the game differently. Keying on certain players, noticing things like players in front of the net, player’s movements away from the puck, crisp passes (and excessive cross-ice passing), and highlight reel goals help us get more involved throughout the season. Noticing Gillies’ issues with the high side and watching Kylington make ill-advised passes made us appreciate the sweet glove saves and sniper shots to balance their games. We felt more invested in the team than is past seasons. I hope my reports provided a first-hand look inside the farm team from a fan’s perspective. I want to thank everyone at Flames Nation, especially Ari Yanover, for this opportunity and look forward to next season.

  • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

    Thank you as always for some good insight into what has been going on “down on the farm”. It is great to get a perspective on what some future Flames are doing. It was awesome having you provide “news with a humorous edge “ for the season and I look forward to seeing a few tidbits over the summer, not to mention next year!

  • JMK

    Thanks for your thoughts throughout the year, SF. Would love a report card for each player if you had time, did I see that mentioned in a previous comments section?

  • Stu Cazz

    SF…nice job on your reporting and much appreciated. Like JMK I would like to see a report card on each player and your thoughts on their longer term projections as a pro, assistant coaches, others etc. Also provide Flames fans with information on yourself, background, City of Stockton (9th highest crime rate in USA..yikes), attendance and your thoughts on long term viability in Stockton, etc etc….thanks

  • Snitch

    A big thank you to SF and The Mrs. for the time and effort they have put in to keep us up to speed on everything from the farm. I enjoyed all the articles throughout the year. Also appreciated the live updates in the comments during the games. Keep up the great work and enjoy your summer!

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Mr. and Mrs. Finest,

    Let me add my voice to the many who have said how much they enjoyed reading your game day farm reports and the other news from the farm you so regularly and diligently supplied us this past season. I would be remiss if I didn’t say thanks also for being a “know it all” with regard to answering members’ questions about life on the farm.

    It all ended way too soon for the Heat and Flames this year, so let’s hope brighter days are ahead in the very near future for both clubs. I am not exaggerating when I say that if the Heat and Flames were manned–or is it now peopled?–with the likes of the talented, determined and committed Mr. and Mrs. Finest, the Heat and Flames would not just be playoff clubs, but would be a serious threats to bring home the gold.

    THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH!

  • freethe flames

    SF: Thanks for your good work during the season. It’s a very different way to watch a team as a reporter rather than as a simple fan. I have spent a far bit of time listening to parts of some games, watching the highlights and frequently reading your articles and the Heat news and think I know the organization reasonably well but have always enjoyed our banter. Who do you think will win the Pacific playoffs?

  • freethe flames

    So this is as good as anyplace to do my assessment of the two Heat forwards that were given an extended look with the Flames,Foo and Mangiapane and I am going to give them both a pass and an incomplete. First lets start with Foo; he struggled early to find his game at the AHL but quickly became one of their key offensive players and had he not been recalled he may have helped the Heat make the the playoffs. His time in the NHL was relatively productive as he got the opportunity to play to his strengths; he knows his way around the offensive zone and was rewarded with a couple of goals. Mangiapane was given a longer look but was never really given an opportunity to play to his strengths; most of the time he played on the fourth line and as result had no points in his time with the big club. What I did like about him during this time was his skating and the fact that he was defensively responsible. His shoulder injury hurt the Heat significantly; had he been healthy he helps them make the playoffs. The incomplete part comes from the fact is I don’t know where they fit in the bigger scheme of things. As it stands I see both of them making a push for the big club next year but I could see both of them starting with the Heat. Mangiapane reminds me of a cross between 2 former Flames: Byron and Stempniak. If his shoulder heals properly I would like to see him slotted with Backs and Frolik early in the preseason, Foo I think needs to put in a more clearer offensive position; say with Tkachuk and Janko.
    If they don’t make the big club I would love to see them with either Gawdin or Dube allowing those young centers a chance to succeed. The other center Gawdin or Dube between say Klimchuk and Poirier.

  • deantheraven

    Dear SF,
    You and Mrs. Finest have been a bright spot in an otherwise dismal season. I appreciate the fact that you’re there for the games, and your insight is much appreciated. You have a ‘real time’ outlook, and I like that. I’m a big believer in the ‘Eye Test’ and less so in stats like corsi, So I’m truly grateful that you & Mrs Finest are actually there in the stands and sharing your thoughts, impressions and insights. I hope you have better access to the team next year, and I’m really looking forward to your next post- mortem post.
    Cheers!

  • Cheeky

    Cheers for keeping us lot up north here tuned in on the action down in Stockton. It’s always nice knowing how the prospects are doing (stats are only part of it) and learning some of the “inside” info…Looking forward to the upcoming blogs…

  • SydScout

    Echo ALL sentiments here in saying that your regular reports have been a genuine addition to our knowledge of the organisation. We’d all still be scratching around trying to find morsels of info regarding the farm. Since you’ve come along it’s night and day in regards to the farm. Thank you SF and Mrs SF – I look forward to buying you a beer or three in your barn next season at some stage. Cheers from down under.

  • Trevy

    Thank you SF for being our eyes down South throughout the season. You provided a great amount of insight and perception on the Heat and i truly appreciated it. Looking forward to your grades on the individuals and some suggested signings. All the best to you and Mrs Finest

  • HAL MacInnis

    Your opinions and reports on the Stockton Heat provided some much needed excitement for us Flames fans this year. God knows Gulutzan wasn’t helping in that department. 😉 Thanks for all your hard work, Finest. Looking forward to your Heat report card.