On Friday, the Stockton Heat had an opportunity to remain in the Calder Cup playoff hunt, albeit an outside chance. The team directly above them, the Tucson Roadrunners, came into Stockton sporting a 1-6-1 record in their last eight games. After going 6-2-0-1 in their last eight, Stockton had set itself up for a late season run.
I am here to sadly report that the Time of Death on the Heat’s season was Friday, March 15 at 9:20 pm local time. It was a peaceful and solemn event. No fanfare, no celebration of existence, no excitement, just a small gathering of 2,670 in attendance to pay their last respects and file quietly out of the arena.
The Heat were badly wounded and on life support after the Sunday, March 10 debacle against the San Jose Barracuda where, while holding a 4-1 lead with fewer than 10 minutes left in the game, the team let San Jose steal the victory with a harmless goal at the 11-minute mark, then allowing two goals 22 seconds apart with fewer than 90 seconds left in the game, and a shootout loss. Even gaining a point, that was the death blow to the team. I added the highlights of that game here, as they were not available in my last post.
That San Jose game drained the Heat, and it showed on Friday against Tucson. The team a played flat, uninspired, and lifeless game. Sloppy play, overpassing the puck, and bad defense led to a 3-1 Roadrunner win.
Even when Juuso Valimaki scored in the second to tie things at one, the team did not respond like in the past. Jon Gillies did his best to fend off Tucson, but he was just one player. When he was finally beat with just over five minutes left in the second, the team folded. An empty net goal sealed the fate of the 2018-19 Stockton Heat.
The arena plays “I’ve seen Better Days” by Citizen King after every loss, but should have played “Taps” on Friday instead. The only thing missing was the Heat wearing black. Another year of missing the playoffs for the Heat, but hey, we did develop Dillon Dube, Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington, and Valimaki for the Flames, so all is good in the world of Flames hockey (dripping with sarcasm).
With the season unofficially over, the Heat bowed again to the Roadrunners on Saturday, this time by the final of 5-2. Even though they played a more physical game, they still were no match for a desperate hockey team trying everything they can to make the playoffs.
Gillies allowed three goals in the second period to put the game out of reach (one was a 5-on-3, the other two high glove side). With the exception of those five minutes when he allowed the two latter goals, he was good in net over the past four to six weeks. But with Friday’s loss, the rest of the team appeared to be just going through the motions. I am expecting a bill from the post office, since the Heat appeared to mail this one in.
As for the remainder of the season, Stockton has nine games left for individuals to pad their stats and make a case for them to be re-signed next season. Players already inked include Buddy Robinson, Matthew Phillips, Glenn Gawdin, Dillon Dube, Juuso Valimaki, Andrew Nielsen, Tyler Parsons, Jon Gillies, and Nick Schneider. I would bring back Kerby Rychel, Ryan Lomberg, Tyler Graovac, Scott Sabourin, Adam Ollas-Mattsson, Rob Hamilton, and Rinat Valiev. I would like to see Curtis Lazar, but feel he will be on a NHL roster somewhere.
While Graovac and Sabourin were better than expected, Josh Healey and Spencer Foo regressed from last season. Time to move on from those two. I would also not sign Matt Taormina, Marcus Hogstrom, and Anthony Peluso. Brett Pollock is hit or miss with me, as he has been buried on the fourth line most of the year.
I have refrained from grading the coaching staff to date, but now the season is all but over, here goes. Time to clean house. Cail MacLean is a better position coach than head coach. Some of the decisions he made this year left my scratching my head. I understand he was dealt a bad hand to start with all of the call-ups and injuries, but he never quite adapted to the situation. He brought out the blender to mix lines, but too often in my opinion, which never allowed a line to fully gel. Lastly, he failed to assign a “C” to anyone this year: it was always a rotating three-some of alternates. This team lacked leadership all season and a captain could have helped. It would be nice to have a seasoned coach to come in and help mold this team into a winner.
I’ve seen better days indeed.