The Stockton Heat finished their busy week of hockey on a high note with a comeback 5-4 win in overtime against the Ontario Reign. This game on Sunday afternoon was action-packed and activated some scoring for Heat skaters that were really due to light the lamp. The Reign seemed to hold “the reigns,” if you will, for most of the game but it was ultimately the Heat that earn both points coming out of this match-up.
Five goals, five guys
Some of the bigger Heat scorers have been quieter since returning from the Christmas break. This game was not only a huge test for the Heat as Ontario has been nipping at their heels in the Pacific Division standings but also an opportunity to turn their game up a notch to prepare for the road ahead. These are the types of games to use as primers for the post-season that is not as far away as it seems.
Eetu Tuulola once again kicked off scoring for the Heat for his third goal in as many games with a power play deflection goal only 1:49 into the game. Nick DeSimone and Connor Mackey picked up assists.
Ontario answered back about two and a half minutes later when a Reign defenceman blocked a Heat pass and came back on the rush with a one-timer Dustin Wolf had pretty much no chance on.
At 14:25 into the first, Matthew Phillips put up a tally to get the Heat’s lead back with a quick breakaway goal. He’s definitely not of the skaters you want to leave on his own if you’re on the opposing side. The lone assist went to Byron Froese.
The lead wouldn’t last long as 2020 second overall draft pick Quinton Byfield snuck the puck around Wolf.
The action-packed first period finished up at two a side and the Heat with an 18-8 edge in shots. The Reign kept the pace through the second period but the Heat were unable to keep up. Byfield was once again in the heart of the action as he snuck a pass in front around his back and his teammate, Tyler Madden connected on it. They would go on to score one more in the second after Walker Duehr was called for tripping and the Reign were successful on the power play with a tip in goal. The second period finished with the Reign up 4-2 on the scoreboard but the Heat still ahead in shots, this time 29-16.
The Heat copied the Reign’s pace through the third period and got two big goals back in the back half of the third period. Walker Duehr buried the puck after receiving a perfect pass from Jakob Pelletier right on the doorstep. Luke Philp was also credited with an assist on Duehr’s goal.
The last goal of regulation came at the hands of Martin Pospisil. Matthew Phillips picked up another point on the night with a behind the back backhand pass he threw at the front of the net right on Pospisil’s stick. This goal came at 15:36 and was enough to hold the Heat to overtime.
If you took an extended snack break between the end of the third and overtime, you very well may have missed the entirety of overtime as Connor Mackey scored the game-winner just 24 seconds into the extra frame. His goal was assisted by Jakob Pelletier and Matthew Phillips, who had a three-point night but somehow didn’t make it to the three-star selection. Tough break on visiting ice sometimes.
Dustin Wolf had a solid night to follow up on his first regulation loss of the season earlier in the week. He stopped 23 of 27 shots and had a great team of scorers to do their part and have his back. The Heat recorded 46 shots on the night.
The Heat announced in the second intermission that Juuso Valimaki left the game with a lower-body injury and would not be returning for the third period.
Now that news at first may seem concerning, but the incidents that lead up to this exit might prove to be a maintenance call. Valimaki played through the whole first period and most of the second with his last shift appearing to be at about 14:40 into the second period. The circumstances around his exit seem a little vague and suspect. Before the last whistle, he was not seen on the view of the stream and did not appear to come in contact with the Reign defenceman in his vicinity. Before the stream cut to the penalty box, Valimaki is seen skating quite normally to the bench and veers off to presumably exit the ice as opposed to finding his place on the bench. No stoppage in play or direct contact on his last shift appeared to be the reason he exited the game.
He is obviously quite high on the call-up list if the Flames are in need of some defensive changes or fill-in’s so this is a player to keep a close eye on. His exit in this game does not seem concerning at this point, but no further updates have been made to clear up suspicions at this time. This may be more of a short-term absence than the initial announcement may seem.
Some changes across the affiliating teams trickled down and up through the Heat. On Jan. 8, the Flames announced they had assigned Adam Ruzicka to the taxi squad and sent Byron Froese back to Stockton.
The return of the captain was welcomed with open arms and in his first game back with the Heat since Dec. 7, 2021, Froese picked up an assist on Phillips’ second period goal.
On game-day the Heat had a roster announcement of their own stating that they had recalled defenceman, Koletrain Wilson from the Kansas City Mavericks. Wilson did not dress for this game and has yet to play a game for the Heat this season. Last year, he skated in five games for the Heat and did not make the scoreboard for any points. This year with the Mavericks, he has earned seven assists in 30 games played.
This week in Heat hockey
Last week was one of the busier weeks for the Heat with a mid-week series and split weekend series. They faced three different teams and finished up with a 2-2 record on the first full week of 2022. This week, they play three games against three different opponents in a four-day span. They will kick things off on Wednesday night in Henderson, Nevada to face the Silver Knights. Next, they will finish up their lengthy road trip against the Bakersfield Condors on Friday night. On Saturday, they will return to home ice for the first time since New Year’s Eve to host the Tucson Roadrunners. All three game times this week are at 8:00 p.m. MT.
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