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Photo Credit: Graphic by Mike Gould

HGD 23: With Belleville in town, Heat hockey returns to the Saddledome (5:00 pm MT, AHL TV)

Remember the Stockton Heat?

After going seven full days without facing another team, the Heat will return to action Wednesday evening for the start of a three-game homestand against the Belleville Senators.

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Will Stockton’s rest and extra practice time make the difference or will they show signs of rust? Either way, they’ll be without their leading scorer: The Calgary Flames recalled Adam Ruzicka to their taxi squad on Monday.

Ruzicka has spent the season playing almost exclusively on a line with Matthew Phillips for the Heat. It’s likely the Heat will reunite Phillips with Glenn Gawdin, his primary centre from last season, in Ruzicka’s absence.

With former Flames goaltender David Rittich having been traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs over the weekend, Artyom Zagidulin has been promoted to the NHL taxi squad.

Garret Sparks remains in the AHL to patrol Stockton’s crease. Joining him will be 2016 second round pick Tyler Parsons, who has missed the entire season with an ankle injury but has since been cleared to get back into action with the Heat.

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It remains to be seen who will get the start in goal for Stockton on Wednesday. The Heat also have 25-year-old former San Jose Barracuda netminder Andrew Shortridge available to them.

With Ruzicka in the NHL, the Heat will need more options at forward down the stretch. They recently signed 20-year-old left wing Navrin Mutter to an AHL contract for the remainder of the 2020-21 season.

Mutter stands 6’3″ and weighs 195 pounds. He scored eight goals and added 12 assists in 60 games with the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs in 2020-21. Mutter is a very physical player who racked up 107 penalty minutes last year.

Last 10 results

Stockton — 2-8-0

Belleville — 5-4-1

Projected lineups

These combinations are based, in part, on those used in these teams’ respective previous games.

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Stockton

Dmitry Zavgorodniy – Glenn Gawdin – Matthew Phillips
Emilio Pettersen – Byron Froese – Luke Philp
Kris Bennett – Giorgio Estephan – Eetu Tuulola
Alex Gallant – Mark Simpson – Colton Beck

Connor Mackey – Zac Leslie
CJ Lerby – Alexander Yelesin
Colton Poolman – Koletrane Wilson

Tyler Parsons
Garret Sparks

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Belleville

Joseph LaBate – J.C. Beaudin – Egor Sokolov
Angus Crookshank – Cole Cassels – Vitaly Abramov
Cole Reinhardt – Mark Kastelic – Parker Kelly
Zach Magwood – Curtis Douglas – Jonathan Davidsson

Hubert Labrie – Lassi Thomson
Jonathan Aspirot – Colby Williams
Cody Goloubef – Jack Dougherty

Filip Gustavsson
Kevin Mandolese

Scoring leaders

This listing excludes players on NHL call-ups or assignments to various other leagues.

Stockton — Luke Philp (eight goals, 16 points in 21 games); Matthew Phillips (six goals, 16 points in 21 games); Connor Mackey (three goals, 12 points in 21 games); Martin Pospisil (five goals, 11 points in 14 games); Emilio Pettersen (five goals, 11 points in 21 games).

Belleville — Vitaly Abramov (six goals, 15 points in 19 games); Egor Sokolov (nine goals, 13 points in 20 games); Parker Kelly (three goals, seven points in 20 games); Lassi Thomson (zero goals, seven points in 20 games); Angus Crookshank (one goal, six points in five games).

Players to watch

Stockton Eetu Tuulola. With Ruzicka’s 6’4″, 202-pound frame out the door, the Heat will need Tuulola to pull even more weight (literally and figuratively) and start contributing with regularity.

The 23-year-old right wing has just two goals and five points in 21 games this season. One of those goals came in Stockton’s last game—a 3-1 win over Laval on Apr. 6—but it served as the insurance marker into an empty net late in the third period.

Tuulola shoots the puck at a solid clip. His 31 shots rank behind only Ruzicka, Luke Philp, Justin Kirkland, Connor Mackey, and Matthew Phillips for sixth on the Heat this year. At a certain point, the goals will come.

Among the 22 Heat players with at least one goal this season, Tuulola’s 6.5 shooting percentage ranks 20th. At 6’2″ and 220 pounds, he still has the ability to impact games in a physical way when he’s not producing. He’s valuable when he’s engaged in at least one way.

Belleville — Curtis Douglas. Speaking of physical engagement: Douglas has the tools to affect the game in ways not many other players can.

The AHL’s website lists Douglas as standing 6’8″ and weighing 249 pounds. At the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, the Dallas Stars couldn’t resist Douglas’ monstrous size and selected him in the fourth round.

The Stars never signed Douglas and their exclusive rights to him expired last year. After spending 16 games this season playing in Austria with the Linz Steel Wings of the Alps Hockey League, Douglas signed an AHL contract with Belleville on Apr. 10.

Douglas scored a goal in his AHL debut later that day, sweeping a rebound in the crease past Manitoba Moose goaltender Mikhail Berdin.

If you somehow can’t pick the towering Douglas out from the crowd wearing white sweaters, he’s the one wearing #39. He scored 30 goals and 60 points as a 19-year-old in the OHL.

How to watch

This game will be broadcast on AHLTV.com (subscription required), with the opening puck-drop set for 5:00 pm MT. Live game updates can be found on Twitter at @miketgould or online at TheAHL.com.