Good things often come in threes.
Fancy meals have three courses. The Lord of the Rings trilogy spans three books and three films. There are three musketeers, three miles in that one Pennsylvania island, and, according to Google, three bones in a typical human ear.
A standard hockey game is made up of three 20-minute periods. The Stockton Heat scored goals in each of the three 20-minute stanzas making up Wednesday evening’s contest against the Belleville Senators, eventually winning by a three-goal margin.
Wednesday’s 4-1 victory was Stockton’s third in a row and helped the team maintain its third-place positioning in the American Hockey League’s North Division. The Heat now own a 3-2-0 record.
Stockton’s top trio of Connor Zary, Matthew Phillips, and Adam Ruzicka had another banner night against the B-Sens, factoring in on three goals for the visitors. Zary scored the first two goals of his professional career, with his second standing as the game-winner, and added an assist in the third for his first three-point AHL game. Phillips notched a pair of helpers.
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Ruzicka continued his torrid pace on Wednesday, becoming the first player in Heat history to record three points in three consecutive games.
Here’s a closer look at Stockton’s game on the third day of the third month in COVID-19’s third calendar year.
(Tired of seeing the words “three” or “third” everywhere? Here’s one more: this game took place on Wednesday, the third day of a typical business week. It keeps going deeper!).

The rundown

Having lost promising young goaltender Dustin Wolf to the WHL’s Everett Silvertips, the Heat entered Wednesday’s game with Garret Sparks as their only experienced option in net.
Sparks’ tenure with the Heat started on rocky footing, with the 27-year-old goalie surrendering seven goals on the 44 shots he faced against his former Toronto Marlies team in Stockton’s four-game opening series.
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Stockton’s top line gave its goaltender a cushion early, with Zary picking up a pass from Ruzicka and driving towards the net to beat Senators goaltender Filip Gustavsson through his seven-hole.
A few minutes later, lightning struck twice. Ruzicka found Zary cutting towards the crease from the right side of the offensive zone; the 2020 first-rounder received the pass by kicking the puck up from his skate to his stick before slamming the puck past Gustavsson.
With some run support in his pocket, Sparks needed to make some saves to preserve his team’s two-goal lead. He gave his best effort of the opening frame on this breakaway opportunity by Sens speedster Alex Formenton.
The Heat exited the first period with a 2-0 lead but Belleville held a 12-11 edge in the shots department.
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Unfortunately, the events of the first six minutes of the game’s second period will forever remain unknown. The AHL’s stream of the first period was beset by glitches, leading to the video feed being taken down throughout the first intermission and well into the middle 20 minutes.
Luckily, the Heat waited until the stream came back online to add to their lead. Roughly three (!!!) minutes after the video feed returned and with Senators forward Logan Brown in the box, Heat forward Justin Kirkland banged home a rebound in front of Gustavsson to make it a 3-0 hockey game.
Luke Philp and C.J. Lerby recorded assists on the goal; as a result, both players each have three points this season. Not kidding.
Later in the second period, with Martin Pospisil in the box for Stockton, the Senators had multiple opportunities to get on the board but were stymied both by Sparks and the goalposts.
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(Yes, before you ask, the Heat went three-for-three on the penalty kill against Belleville).
Ruzicka scored his fifth goal of the season early in the third period to give his team a 4-0 lead. The zone entry leading up to the goal was likely offside by a couple of feet but, at the Senators’ expense, the goal counted.
The home side finally managed to solve Sparks late in the third period, with AHL rookie Egor Sokolov capitalizing on a Ruzicka turnover and slamming his own rebound into Stockton’s cage.
Stockton eventually took this one by a 4-1 score but recorded just 30 shots to Belleville’s 39—a difference of three, squared. Because, why not?

Why the Heat won

The Heat won this game by taking advantage of the magic of threes.
In all seriousness, their top line had more jump from its first shift of the game. Zary, Ruzicka, and Phillips continue to display fantastic chemistry. The 19-year-old Zary is set to return to the WHL in roughly a week but, for now, he has become one of the most valuable players on a team just one step below the NHL.
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Stockton’s goaltending was nothing if not steady. Sparks made some impressive and acrobatic saves but, more often than not, looked calm and sure in his cage.

The hottest Heat

How could it not be Adam Ruzicka? The 21-year-old Slovak may just be the hottest player in the entire AHL right now. He has nine points in his last three games.
Glenn Gawdin made his return to the AHL on Wednesday night after a five-game stint with the Calgary Flames; unfortunately for the Swift Current Broncos alumnus, his spot as the Heat’s number-one centre has been stolen. What could be better than a little internal competition to get Gawdin into his rhythm once again at the AHL level?

Up next

The Heat now head to Toronto for a two-game set against the familiar Toronto Marlies. They’ll be back in action on Friday, Mar. 5 at 5:00 p.m. MT. You can catch the game on AHL TV; I’ll be posting updates on Twitter at @miketgould.
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