Creating continuity may be Mitch Love’s biggest coaching strength
Photo credit:Photo courtesy the Stockton Heat
By Ryan Pike3 months ago
The 2021-22 Stockton Heat were a really good hockey team that existed in challenging circumstances. The future of the Heat was fairly up-in-the-air from the start of the season, with negotiations of an extended lease never really getting anywhere. Combine that with the pandemic of it all, it probably made for a challenging environment to coach and/or play.
But the Heat didn’t just play: they excelled under first-year American Hockey League head coach Mitch Love.
In 2021-22, the Heat went 45-16-5-2. They out-scored opponents, on average, 3.56-2.72. Sure, they had the benefit of the AHL’s top goaltender, Dustin Wolf, in net. But they also had some strong offensive performances from AHL veterans Glenn Gawdin, Justin Kirkland, Luke Philp and Byron Froese.
Following the season, two disruptive things happened to the Heat:
- The Heat were relocated from Stockton to Calgary, with the move not formally approved until late in the off-season.
- Eight prominent Heat players signed elsewhere for 2022-23: Gawdin, Kirkland, Philp, Froese, Eetu Tuulola, Andy Welinski, Kevin Gravel and Adam Werner.
As the Heat became the Calgary Wranglers, they lost four of their six leading goal-scorers and two of their veteran defenders. The Wranglers added a mixture of young forwards (Ben Jones, Cole Schwindt, Adam Klapka), veteran forwards (Mitch McLain, Radim Zohorna, Brett Sutter, Clark Bishop), veteran blueliners (Dennis Gilbert, Nicolas Meloche), young defenders (Jeremie Poirier, Yan Kuznetsov) and a new backup goalie (Oscar Dansk). They also moved to an entirely different city, where suddenly the team’s prospects were directly under the nose of the NHL brass.
Despite all of this, after an initial struggle – they went 2-5-0-0 in over their first seven games – the Wranglers won 49 of their remaining 65 games en route to capturing top spot in the AHL during the regular season.
|Goals For (per game)||3.558 (3rd)||3.555 (4th)|
|Goals Against (per game)||2.721 (3rd)||2.417 (1st)|
|Power Play||19.6% (13th)||21.0% (9th)|
|Penalty Kill||86.6% (1st)||85.1% (1st)|
Despite changing up a big, big chunk of their roster, the Wranglers won more often, allowed fewer goals, scored almost exactly as much, and were among the better teams in the AHL on both sides of special teams.
And for all the “yeah, but they had Dustin Wolf…” talk, the Wranglers actually allowed slightly fewer shots per minute with Wolf in net than they did as the Heat – 0.516 shots per minute as Stockton, 0.510 shots per minute as the Wranglers. Wolf was really good, but the Wranglers were arguably better in front of him than they were a year prior. With a completely different team.
The Wranglers were very different from the Heat, in a lot of important ways. But Love and his staff managed to help their club roll with the changes and come out on the other side as one of the AHL’s best clubs. Love’s ability to help his team adapt and create continuity in an environment of big changes is perhaps his best asset as a coach, and arguably makes him a really strong contender for an NHL gig.
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