The Heat headed into last weekend with a 10-10-1 record and, while sitting in a playoff spot in points, they are really in the cellar based on the number of games played. Stockton was the only team to have played more than 20 games in Pacific Division. They started a six-game homestand by welcoming the Ontario Reign, followed by the San Jose Barracuda.
As previously documented, the Heat have made several moves over the past week. Andrew Mangiapane and Dalton Prout were recalled to Calgary, Morgan Klimchuk was sent to Toronto in exchange for Andrew Nielsen, and Dillon Dube was assigned to Stockton. Nielsen has not been sent to Stockton yet.
FRIDAY, 11/30 – ONTARIO REIGN
It was Harry Potter night and Sock Toss (Teddy Bear style). I have no idea the correlation between Harry Potter and socks, but they go to a good cause (United Way) so I will play along.
I wasn’t the only one with jet lag on Friday (I flew back from Boston on Friday just in time for the game) as the Heat seemed to be playing in quicksand. Ontario got on the board first just after the five minute mark when a defensive breakdown led to a partial breakaway and a one-goal deficit after 20 minutes.
We have been to two Teddy Bear Tosses so far and we have always been able to throw our bears in the first period, so still having socks in our possession heading into the second period was foreign territory. Time to cast a spell to make the socks fly. Just over two minutes into the second, Josh Healey waved his stick and magically found the back of the net for his first career professional goal on a feed from Dube. Late in the period, Spencer Foo skated towards the front of the net tapping his stick and Matt Taormina found it for a deflection and a lead heading into the third.
The Heat increased their lead to two when Foo’s centering pass from behind the net was tipped and Kerby Rychel batted it out of the air and past the goalie for his team-leading 11th goal of the season. The visitors made it interesting when they scored midway through the final frame. Stockton cast the Reign away with timely defensive play, key saves by Nick Schneider, and a Buddy Robinson empty netter.
There were no links to game quotes for this and Saturday’s game. The last one that appears on the Heat website are from Tuesday’s game in San Jose. Here are Facebook links to a few interviews:
SATURDAY, 12/1 – SAN JOSE BARRACUDA
On Saturday, while the Heat hosted San Jose on “Hip Hop Night” at the barn, Mrs. Finest and I hosted SydScout! His travel plans called for him to fly from Sydney to Chicago and his itinerary allowed him an overnight stay in San Francisco. After a 14-hour flight, he took the two-hour drive from SFO to Stockton to see some AHL hockey! We were honored to have him join us.
While we were chatting it up, a hockey game broke out and just like that, two goals on two shots for San Jose in the first 135 seconds. A third goal for the Barracuda with less than four minutes left in the first sent the home team to the locker room down again after 20 minutes, but this time on the wrong end of a three-goal lead.
The Heat came out in the second looking a little better. Matthew Phillips found pay dirt for his fifth of the season to cut the lead to two. San Jose came roaring back with two more goals, the last one chasing Schneider from the crease, for a 5-1 lead. Enter Jon Gillies to settle the boat. That sparked the team as Spencer Foo lit the lamp for the second game in a row a few minutes after the goalie swap. While the Heat pressed to win the period, solid defensive play and good goaltending by San Jose and a few missed opportunities on the Heat side kept the lead at three after 40 minutes of play.
Stockton started the third playing with a sense of urgency. The Heat cut the lead to two when Scott Sabourin potted his second of the season. Down 5-3 with just under three minutes to play, Gillies skated off for the extra attacker but a loose puck was picked up by San Jose and deposited into the empty net. Still fighting to the end, Foo blasted a one-timer for his second of the game, but it was too little, too late and the Barracuda skated Straight Outta Stockton with a 6-4 victory.
Post-game Facebook videos:
I see promise in this forward group.
- The line of Rychel, Foo, and Alan Quine combine for 52 points, with Quine and Rychel leading the team with 19 points each. Foo leads the team with 61 shots with Rychel close on his heels at 55. This trio has tallied eight of the 19 goals with the man advantage. Getting Rychel for Hunter Shinkaruk is turning out to be a steal for the Calgary organization.
- In what I am calling the Pee Wee line, Phillips, Dube, and Glenn Gawdin look to have immediately bonded. These three are fast and will cause teams a lot of trouble. Dube was close to notching his first Stockton goal, but made an extra move at point blank range in front of Peter Budaj and was stoned. If he just fires the puck, he scores. He did contribute with three assists in two games. If this lines remain together, they will start to challenge Quine’s line as point leader by the end of the season.
- Phillips is finding his groove. He is tied for sixth on the team in goals with five while only taking 23 shots. He was on the second power play unit during the San Jose game. His ice time will increase as his play continues to improve. He definitely needs two years in Stockton to become prepared for the NHL by using his speed to avoid getting muscled off the puck in the corners.
- Curtis Lazar is so fun to watch play. He is third on the team in points and continues to produce regardless of who is on his line. His puck handling and vision remind me of Mark Jankowski when he was here. Comparing highlights I saw of him last year in Calgary and now, he looks more relaxed. He is letting the game come to him and not forcing the issue like he used to. He is playing on both special teams, accounting for half of the Heat’s shorthanded goals. Although TOI is not tracked in the AHL, I would figure he is getting between 17 and 20 minutes a night.
While the forward group is showing improvement, the defense has taken a step back in the past few weeks. This could be due to all of the movement with players seemingly coming and going on a daily basis.
- Oliver Kylington and Dalton Prout are in Calgary.
- Andrew Nielsen has not suited up for the Heat yet.
- Adam Ollas-Mattsson was a scratch on Saturday (I don’t know why).
- The stream of PTOs who have spent time here include Rob Hamilton, Andrew O’Brien, Kayle Doetzel, Cliff Watson, Brady Austin, and now Willie Raskob. Out of this group, I can only see the Heat signing Hamilton to an AHL contract.
Taormina, who is known for his offense, needs to start stepping up to fill the scoring void left when Kylington took his 14 points to Calgary. Healey (1-5) has more goals and points than Taormina (0-4) on 22 fewer shots (32 to 10 for Healey). The active defensive points leader currently is Hamilton with seven points (2-5), and he has only played 10 games.
Lastly, there are too many defensive breakdowns leading to odd man rushes against. This group needs to tighten up the back end while still lending support offensively. They need to stop turning the puck over in their own zone and clear the zone when they have the opportunity instead of playing cross-ice catch with their partner.
In goal, I would alternate Gillies and Schneider for the remainder of the year. Neither one performs well in back-to-back games consistently. At least Schneider is sporting a respectful 6-2 record with a 2.66 GAA and .915 save percentage, but he has been pulled twice in the last three games he has started. No one expected him to continue with his .960 save percentage ways, and while his defense has not helped him out, he does need to make the obvious save. That is the difference right now between the two goalies; Schneider makes the easy saves while Gillies is still shaky on every shot.
There have been zero updates regarding Tyler Parsons other than week-to-week. He is still in Stockton, which I guess bodes well for his progress. But until I see him on the ice for warmups, I am not expecting him to play until at least January. He is still young so all hope is not lost, but he is missing valuable ice time in his development.
On a personal note, I want to thank SydScout for the visit. We had a wonderful time at the game, even though the Heat did not win. We shared stories over a few beers (and Mrs. F’s vodka drink), talked hockey throughout the game, and we got to show him around our little barn. We spent time at the hotel next to the arena after the game and continued the conversation regarding the Heat, Stockton in general, the AHL, writing for Flames Nation, and, of course, the Flames and Calgary. Hopefully we can do it again soon.