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Photo Credit: Graphic by Mike Gould

Heat 4, Gulls 1: Mackey, Wolf steal the show in Valimaki’s AHL return

Connor Mackey scored twice and added an assist as the Stockton Heat defeated the San Diego Gulls by a 4–1 score at the Stockton Arena on Friday evening.

Heat goaltender Dustin Wolf maintained his perfect regulation record (8–0–2, .934 SV%), making 23 saves to help his team bounce back from a 5–1 loss to the Colorado Eagles on Nov. 27.

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Friday was a good day to be a hockey player named Connor in Stockton. Connor Mackey scored his first two goals of the season — one shorthanded, one on the power play — and Connor Zary netted the game-winner.

Few things went Stockton’s way in the first period. San Diego controlled the shots on goal by a 7–1 margin, with the Heat failing to test Gulls goaltender Lukas Dostal even once on their lone power play of the opening frame.

Sometimes a less tested goaltender is more prone to making mistakes. Heat forward Martin Pospisil took his team’s only shot of the first period at the 12:52 mark — and it went in, giving Stockton a thoroughly undeserved (but welcomed, nonetheless) 1–0 lead.

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Mackey and Jakob Pelletier recorded the helpers on the goal. Pospisil kept the good times rolling with the early marker: He now has seven points in his last seven AHL games.

Zary doubled Stockton’s lead early in the second period, beating Dostal with a low shot from a sharp angle. It was a sign of things to come for the Heat, who managed to outshoot the Gulls 21–3 in the middle frame.

After nearly a full period of sustained pressure (and three unsuccessful power plays), the Heat finally managed to go up 3–0 in an unexpected game situation.

While Stockton forward Eetu Tuulola served an interference penalty in the dying minutes of the period, Mackey broke in on a shorthanded rush alongside Luke Philp. Mackey received the puck from Philp and quickly fired a wrister past Dostal for his first goal of the season, which came with just 80 seconds remaining in the second.

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Gulls forward Danny O’Regan spoiled Wolf’s shutout bid just over three minutes into the third period, finally capitalizing on San Diego’s sixth power play of the game. Justin Kirkland had a chance to reinstate Stockton’s three-goal advantage with a penalty shot at the 9:58 mark of the final frame but fired the puck wide of the net.

Then, Mackey struck again — and Heat newcomer Juuso Valimaki picked up the primary assist.

With both defencemen manning the point on Stockton’s top power play unit, the Heat maintained control in the offensive zone with six minutes remaining in regulation time. Valimaki slid the puck over to Mackey, who took the pass on the left side and unleashed a shot that easily negotiated its way past Dostal. Glenn Gawdin picked up the secondary assist on the goal.

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Stockton (12–2–2) will return to action on Dec. 4 when they finish off their back-to-back home set against San Diego (8–7–1) at 7:00 p.m. MT.