While the Calgary Flames pre-season comes to an end, hockey is finally back for the Stockton faithful. Time to bring the jerseys back into the primary closet, get a new notebook for the season, pack up a few pens (have to have back up) in my game Go Bag, and get back into the swing of writing about Calgary’s top affiliate for the fans up North. This season I will try my best to provide not only game notes but bring you observations and stories you cannot get in a four-minute highlight clip or by reading game summaries.
Friday, Sept. 27 – Bakersfield (away)
Jonesing for live action hockey, Mrs. Finest and I decided to re-trace our tracks from last year and take in the road preseason game in Bakersfield. I “worked from home” while Mrs. Finest took the afternoon off so we could drive almost four hours south to watch the first of two Heat preseason games. Last season, Stockton scored first and led 1-0 after two periods before bowing 3-1. This season was similar in the fact that they took a 1-0 lead, but the results were way worse; an 8-3 shellacking at the hands of the Condors.
Based on last year’s game, we figured the team would be filled with a bunch of PTOs, ECHL players, and bottom six type players. With the majority of Top 6 and Top 4 players in San Jose the night before, a skeleton roster was what we got. Because rosters are still being set, and being the visiting team, there was no stat sheet showing who was even there (both the Heat and AHL.com do not show who is in camp). I did not even bring my notebook, as I just wanted to take in the game and get a feel for this team.
Tyler Parsons let in five goals in 40 minutes while three got past ECHL-bound Nick Schneider. Three of the five goals against Parsons were due to a combination of rebound control and the defense not clearing the front of the net. Schneider gave up a wrap around goal that he wasn’t even close to stopping. I think they had to stop the bus back to Stockton to go retrieve his jock that was left on the ice.
The defense looked shaky for most of the night. Alexander Yelesin was solid for the first 20 minutes, but seemed to fade after the team went down 3-1. Andrew Nielsen played better than the way he finished last season, where he seemed lackadaisical at times during his 29 games for the Heat last season. He was physical, directing traffic on face-offs, and seemed comfortable and in control. Besides adding the primary assist on the last goal, Corey Schueneman was constantly being beat or out of place. His playing partner Zac Leslie, hailed for his defensive play, did not start off his Heat tenure as planned, recording a minus-4 for the night. Terrance Amorosa and Zach Osburn, both on AHL contracts, were not memorable.
Just like last season, lines were in constant flux, which is to be expected in the first preseason game. Only two forwards stood out to me; Adam Tambellini and Adam Ruzicka. Tambellini, in camp on a PTO (last year in Belleville), had a goal and an assist. Recording 32 points (13-19) in 72 games last season, Tambellini could be a good middle 6 player, as his history shows he constantly nets double-digit goals. Ruzicka paced the team with five shots and was buzzing during every shift but finished with a minus-4. He had an assist on Leslie’s goal and constantly drove his line. He started centering Martin Pospisil and Eetu Tuulola. Honorable mention to Alex Gallant, who fought Anthony Peluso twice within six minutes and got kicked out after his third major of the game. He can fight but giving up least four inches and 40 pounds was not pretty to watch.
Sunday, Sept. 29 – Bakersfield (home)
While Friday’s lineup featured more ECHL and PTOs, this lineup had more of a regular season feel to it. Armed with a roster, this game was easier to follow. Time to break in this season’s new notebook.
After a 20-minute delay because there was no ambulance at the rink (like this was a last-minute event), the puck finally dropped to start the (pre-)season. Lines are listed as they hit the ice:
|Gillies (1st half)|
|Zagidulin (2nd half)|
The game started quickly as Eetu Tuulola executed a perfect drop pass to Brandon Davidson, who buried it for a 1-0 lead 20 seconds into the contest. After a Condors goal, Rinat Valiev scorched a worm-burner that gave the Heat a 2-1 lead as they headed into the dressing room after 20 minutes.
In the second, the Condors kept fighting back to tie the score but Stockton always answered the call. Ryan Lomberg got his second point of the night on a shorthanded goal at the 8-minute mark of the middle frame. That lead was short lived as Gillies gave up a shot (guess where) that he should have had: so much so that his reaction was nothing I have ever seen from him before. After the puck passed him, he went from his skates to his knees to his stomach, pounding his stick into the ice. It was like a small, controlled temper tantrum. Also interesting about that goal, usually teammates come back and tap his pads like “I got you”, but after this goal, there was not a Heat player anywhere near him. He was a man on an island. Just over half way though the period, Tuulola buried a shot from the slot from a feed from Lomberg to regain a one-goal advantage. After that goal, both clubs changed their netminders. Bakersfield scored on their first shot against Artyom Zagidulin, a shooter’s goal that found the open four inches above the shoulder and just under the post. The score was knotted at four after two periods of play.
Justin Kirkland registered his first Heat goal on a roofed shot that pinged the top iron to put the good guys back up. But the Condors would not go away, evening up the score midway through the period. Two minutes later, Buddy Robinson got on the board when he picked up the garbage in front and went five-hole to put the Heat up for good. Lomberg iced the game with an empty-netter (and his sixth point of the game) to make the final score 7-5. Man, I love hearing Ring of Fire.
No video highlights but post game interviews and photos:
- The Finests were not the only ones scouting the Heat on Friday: we met and spoke with Flames Asst. General Manager Brad Pascall and Player Development Scout Ron Sutter. They were also amongst the 2,000 fans at Sunday’s game in Stockton.
- No Heat player wore a letter in either game against Bakersfield. I hope that Head Coach Cail MacLean is waiting for the players coming down to assign a Captain and Alternates. This team sorely missed that leadership last season.
- In both games, the Heat outshot the Condors. On Friday, the total was 39-32 while on Sunday the difference was 41-15.
- The defense played well on Sunday, but still allowed some point-blank chances. It is a more-experienced group than last season. The team currently has eight defensemen on the roster after some were sent down to Kansas City on Sunday. Besides the six listed above, the Heat have Schueneman and Osburn still with the club.
- The two Russians (Valiev and Yelesin) looked solid together, as they moved the puck well, had some precise breakout passes, and moved bodies away from the front of the net. It is like they have been paired together for longer than a few weeks.
- Heat goalies did not fare well, allowing 8 goals on 32 shots on Friday and 5 on 15 Sunday. Parsons gave up 5 on 21 shots and Schneider allowed 3 on 11 on Friday. Sunday, Gillies surrendered 3 goals on 12 shots while Zagidulin stopped 1 of 3 shots. The stat sheet says Zagidulin only faced 3 shots with 1 save, but I saw him make more than one save in front of me in the second.
- It was nice to see some protection for our smaller players. On Sunday, after Matthew Phillips was boarded, Martin Pospisil, without hesitation, went after the Condors player. He did the same in Bakersfield. Two games: three fights… I like this guy.
- Speaking of Phillips, he not only was on the power play but he spent some time on the penalty kill with his center, Glenn Gawdin.
- At one point, MacLean had three forwards and one defenseman on the PK. Weird.
- As of this writing, Alan Quine and Zac Rinaldo are headed for Stockton. It is reported that we will receive another player or two, depending on the cap. I would imagine those two would slot in where Philp and Tambellini played. (Editor’s note: Dillon Dube was assigned also, after this was written.)
- The Heat open in Colorado this Friday and Saturday. Their home opener is next Saturday against the San Diego Gulls.
Last year I expected the team to challenge for a playoff spot. With all of the recalls and inexperience, expectations were quickly dashed as Mrs. Finest and I wallowed through a mediocre year of Heat hockey. Heading into the fifth (and final?) Heat season, I am tempering my expectations, as Bakersfield and San Jose are stacked, San Diego is always good, and Tucson and Colorado seem to always make the playoffs. It will be tough sledding in the quest for the Calder Cup.
Go Heat Go!