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Stockton Heat fall to Bakersfield Condors and Ontario Reign in weekend openers

The days are shortening. The temperature is dipping into the 70s. The leaves are starting to (barely) change colors. That could mean only one thing: time for a new season of Stockton Heat hockey.

There is optimism in the air as the season starts with new veteran additions like Buddy Robinson, Alan Quine (back in Stockton after a short stay with the Thunder five years ago), Kerby Rychel, Tyler Graovac, and Matt Taormina to mix with newcomers like Tyler Parsons, Matthew Phillips, and Glenn Gawdin. Stockton also returns players from last year in the likes of Andrew Mangiapane, Morgan Klimchuk, Spencer Foo, Oliver Kylington, and fan favorite Ryan Lomberg, and a few others.

PRESEASON

The first preseason game on Sept. 29 in Bakersfield appeared to be a PTO tryout. Only a few regulars made it to the ice. Stockton took a 1-0 lead into the third but ultimately fell 3-1 to the Condors. You can see me and Mrs. Finest celebrating in the background after the lone Heat goal.

The next day was the only home preseason game against the same Bakersfield Condors. Graovac potted two and Zach Fischer added a third goal, but penalties doomed the Heat. Rychel took a bad penalty putting the team down a man with 90 seconds left. A hooking penalty against Cliff Watson put the Heat down two players with less than a minute to play, which allowed the Condors to score with five seconds left in the game to win 4-3.

FRIDAY’S SEASON OPENER

Friday, the AHL season started with the Battle of Alberta of California and another game against Bakersfield. The Heat took the three-hour bus ride down to Rabobank Arena, but it appeared they left their game in Stockton. I was not able to get line combos.

Parsons became the first netminder to start a Heat season opener not named Jon Gillies. The Heat started pretty fast. Robinson had a shorthanded breakaway against Condor goalie Al Montoya, but was stuffed trying for the five-hole. After that point, the Heat went cold. The Condors scored midway through the first on a power play goal. Parsons made some nice saves to keep the score 1-0 after 20 minutes.

The wheels on the bus came off completely in the second. Parsons gave up a shorty 27 seconds into the period and proceeded to allow another three power play goals before getting the hook, allowing five goals on 20 shots. Gillies came in and allowed another two goals in the second as Bakersfield exploded for a total of SIX goals in the middle frame to take a 7-0 lead into the locker room.

Gillies gave up the second shorthanded goal of the evening just over 90 seconds into the third. Rychel became this year’s initial goal scorer for the Heat breaking up Montoya’s bid for a shutout five minutes into the third. The Heat fell 8-1 in what may be the worse game in Heat history.

A new feature I am bringing to this report this year, a link to the post-game quotes.

SATURDAY’S HOME OPENER

Saturday was the home opener for the Heat as they took on the Ontario Reign. Even before the puck dropped, there is a good sign to start the season: Stockton Arena now serves Molson Canadian!

Trying to shake off the bad mojo from the previous night, Cail MacLean shook up the lines early and often. I do not believe the same line stayed intact throughout the game. But here is what I had written down at the start of the game.

Andrew Mangiapane Curtis Lazar Brett Pollock
Morgan Klimchuk Tyler Graovac Spencer Foo
Kerby Rychel Alan Quine Buddy Robinson
Ryan Lomberg Glenn Gawdin Scott Sabourin
Oliver Kylington Adam Ollas-Mattsson
Josh Healey Michael Paliotta
Andrew O’Brien Cliff Watson
Jon Gillies

For the second straight game, the Heat faced a former NHL goalie, this time facing former L.A. Kings and Tampa Bay Lightning Peter Budaj. The Heat seemed to start out playing mad, in a good way. Foo scored the first home ice goal with a nifty wraparound. Andrew O’Brien put the Heat up by two with a five-hole shot. Less than a minute after Ontario scored, Gawdin recorded his first professional goal and point with a nice slap top-side to put the Heat back up by two. Klimchuk joined the goal party with a quick wrister that beat Budaj.

This is what was expected from this team, four goals in 10 minutes. But the team seemed to take the foot off the pedal and relaxed. Ontario scored the next three goals, one on the power play, and we were tied at four after one period. Stockton outshot Ontario 14 to 11.

The second period started off with a power play goal from Foo, his third point of the night, in the first minute to regain the lead for the home team. To everyone’s disbelief, that would be the last Heat goal of the night. Ontario tied things back up with a slow, weak shot that trickled past Gillies’ blocker side. From that point, the game settled down a bit. Teams went to the locker room tied at five. Ontario led in shots 10-9.

The third period saw Ontario pick up play in their zone with Gillies making some really good saves with little or no rebounds to keep Stockton tied. The Heat were outshot 12-6 and barely tested Budaj.

With a point in hand, we headed to overtime. The Heat had a few good looks and maintained possession for the first 90 seconds. An Ontario takeaway in their zone led to a two-on-one breakaway. The initial shot beat Gillies but pinged off the post and the Reign player was there to put the rebound in an open net, sending the home team to the locker room with only a single point in front of over 5,200 fans.

Here are the post-game quotes.

AFTERTHOUGHTS

What was the strength of the team last year, the defense needs help badly. With Rasmus Andersson and Juuso Valamaki in Calgary, and Matt Taromina and Marcus Hogstrom on IR, the team is leaning on Kylington to lead this group of third line defenders. I know that plus/minus has been argued to death, but being a minus-five after two games is not setting a good example. Time for this group to gel and get back to playing fundamental hockey. This is MacLean’s expertise, time to whip this bunch into shape.

The Heat need to play disciplined hockey. They have taken 11 penalties in two games and have allowed five power play goals. With the troubles on the defensive end, staying out of the sin bin is critical to their success.

It has been a rocky start for both Gillies and Parsons. The defense has not helped, but they still need to stop the puck, as allowing seven goals a game (14 total goals in two games) will not win games. Maybe it was just opening weekend jitters, but this tandem needs to become a wall sooner than later. The good news is they have 66 games to lower their GAA and save percentage.

Curtis Lazar looked good on Saturday. With limited practice (one morning and one pre-game skate), he had some good chemistry with Mangiapane. A few no-look passes through the crease gave Mangiapane some prime scoring chances. With more practice, this duo should be inked into the top line for as long as both are here in Stockton. I saw Brett Pollock, Foo, and even Robinson on a line with them.

In the third period, MacLean experimented by putting five forwards on the power play. Even though they did not score, the group of Lazar, Mangiapane, Foo, Rychel, and Quine moved the puck well and controlled play in the zone. Time will tell if this will become the norm.

Stockton now has a week of much-needed practice before next Friday’s game in Ontario and back home on Saturday to host the hated San Jose Barracuda. Time to work on the defensive deficiencies and get ready to “reign” on Ontario’s home opener (see what I did there… Ontario Reign… rain… I know, I am a dork).

    • Stockton's Finest

      That picture was taken during warmups, about 30 minutes before game time. Being opening night, most fans were getting food and drinks, looking at the new vendors, and just walking around the arena.

        • Stockton's Finest

          Over 5,200 at the opener. Season ticket sales are up from last year. Last year’s numbers were the lowest in the league at just over 3,600. The first 2 years here they were around 4,500, which is bottom third for the AHL. The Thunder led the league for the first four years in the ECHL at 6,000 or so. They never dipped below 4,700 in 10 years.
          I wrote an article about this back in May that show the numbers.

  • HAL MacInnis

    Love the post-game quotes link, Finest. A little player and coach candidness helps paint a clearer picture of where the team is at. And speaking of pictures, that one of you and the missus is gold. Now you’re on the paparazzi’s radar though. 😉 Great write up!

    Cail MacLean has his work cut out for him. The Flames did him no favours by snatching up Dube and Valimaki right out of the gate.Those two should have started in Stockton. Hamonic might not have broke his face either. (20/20, I know.) If Peluso ain’t a liability on the ice, should he be Calgary’s enforcer?

  • Stu Gotz

    Been reading on Twitter these are the changes to the bottom 6 and defence in practice today. Jankowski & Prout are out.
    Bennett-Dube-Neal
    Frolik-Ryan-Hathaway

    Valimaki-Andersson

  • MDG1600

    I have question that you might know the answer to SF. Do the Heat have their own goalie coach or does Sigalet travel to Stockton from time to time to work with the goalies?

  • Chucky

    Just my luck that they would put a Canadian Beer in the stadium and then play in San Diego the only day this season that I stay in the area. Oh well in March the golf is better in the central valley than the Cowichan valley.

    • Stockton's Finest

      Meh…the defense overall is not as good as last year. Wish we still had Wotherspoon, Kulak, even Colby Robak. But once we get players back from injury, I think we will be ok.

  • Skylardog

    Thanks Stockton. So many guys we all need to follow down there so your eyes and ears are going to be great to have in the rink. Excited for Gawdin and Lazar to show what they have. Gawdin may be our Boeser.

  • Mickey O'Reaves

    Hey SF, great picture of you and the missus in the background!
    Really enjoy the updates, dipping into the 70’s, eh? Tough break.
    Cheers to both of you from up North!

  • SeanCharles

    That is a rough looking top 6 blueline group.

    Healey and AOM are decent depth guys but the overall group needs some help as these two shouldn’t be 2 of your top 3 dmen. Meanwhile Watson, Paliotta and O’Brien are below average AHL guys.

    It should come as no suprise the amount of GA in these two games..

    If Kylington is to succeed as the #1 down on the farm and if Gillies and Parsons are destined to excel in net the team is going to need some better support.

    Valiev, Hogstrom and Taormina joining the group can’t come soon enough really.