The regular season is finally here. The Stockton Heat opened in Colorado, sweeping the two-game set over the Eagles. The Heat never trailed during the weekend, winning 5-2 and 4-2.
Matthew Phillips, Buddy Robinson, and Byron Froese had a goal in each game, while Justin Kirkland, Alexander Yelesin, and Zac Leslie netted their first goal of the season. Artyom Zagidulin (2-0-0 2.00 GAA; .938 SV %) stopped 60 of 64, allowing goals midway through the 3rd period of both contests. After the opening weekend, Kirkland (2-1) and Zac Rinaldo (0-3) led the team with 3 points. It was the first time in team history that the team opened with two road victories to start the season.
Sat. Oct. 12 – San Diego Gulls
Lines (as they hit the ice):
On Saturday, the City of Stockton opened the doors on the 15th season of hockey when the Heat hosted San Diego. The Gulls quieted the crowd with a goal on their first shot just over 3 minutes into the contest. But the good guys knotted things up on a Heat five on three power play when Dillon Dube fed Glenn Gawdin who ripped one past the goalie.
After killing off a two-man advantage, the Heat took the lead on Ryan Lomberg’s first of the season, a redirection tip of a Brandon Davidson shot from the point. The Heat were up by a goal going into the locker room after 40 minutes.
Davidson notched his first lamp lighter of the season with a huge assist to the San Diego netminder. A slapper that went wide of the net ricocheted off the boards and hit the goalie’s back and into the net. Eetu Tuulola got his first professional goal (and second point of the night) with a wicked one-timer from the circle that would become the game winner. Two late goals by San Diego, one off a bad defensive turnover from Rinat Valiev, made the final five minutes uncomfortable. An empty-net, 4 on 4 goal by Robinson sealed the victory and sent the 4,400 fans home happy.
The Heat started the season 3-0-0 for the first time in their history.
Froese was named captain, with Lomberg and Robinson serving as alternates. This is the first player to wear the “C” in 2 years and the first Heat captain under 30 years old. It’s nice to have a captain who plays on the top line and can lead by example.
The defense has been more physical than last season’s group. In the first three games, they are more engaged, clog the middle of the ice, move players out of the slot, and make the safe pass out of the zone. They have provided a clear viewing path for Zagidulin to make the save and clear the loose puck out of danger. They are cautious in jumping into the rush, as they tend to back into the defensive zone rather than trying to push a neutral zone puck ahead. There have been some breakdowns, which is to be expected with new pairings, but they have been kept to a minimum. It was smart to pair the two Russians together (Yelesin and Valiev) as they can communicate better.
The forward group is clicking. Of the 13 forwards who have played, only three have yet to register a point. Martin Pospisil, Luke Philp, and Alan Quine are pointless, with Pospisil the only one playing all three games (Philp has two games while Saturday was Quine’s first). Froese (2-2-4), Gawdin (1-3-4) and Davidson (1-3-4) for the team lead with four points. Four others have three points: Robinson (3-0-3), Kirkland (1-2-3), Lomberg (1-2-3), and Rinaldo (0-3-3).
Zagidulin’s start to the season has been promising (3-0-0: 2.33 GAA: .920 SV%). He plays low but is quick back to his skates. He has really good positioning, squaring up against shooters. He tends to kick towards the boards and out of harm’s way. When he does kick forward, his defense has helped out by clearing the rubber in front of him. One downside is that six of the seven goals he’s allowed have occurred midway through the third or later. With Jon Gillies day-to-day and Parsons week-to-week, Nick Schneider has served as his back up. If “Zags to Riches” continues to play this way, it will be hard for Gillies or Parsons to take the net back.
On Tuesday the Heat look to extend their season-opening win streak to four when they host Bakersfield in the first of 12 meetings (and four by the end of the month) in the BOAOC (Battle of Alberta of California). Stockton looks to reverse the results from last season when they won only two of ten meetings against last year’s division winning Condors.