The Stockton Heat have been rolling through their seven game road trip with all their lines firing and everyone on the team finding a way to win. On Thursday, March 11th, the Heat extended their team high winning streak to eight with a 2-1 victory over the Manitoba Moose. With the nature of the season and the division switch, expectations weren’t necessarily set for the California team now playing their home games out of Calgary, Alberta. It is safe to say at this point, they have exceeded whatever expectations may have been set for them.
Shortened Season, Sizeable Stats
Keep in mind the Heat are only playing 30 games this season. This winning streak alone secures victories in over 25% of their total games. They have heavily secured their spot at the top of the Canadian division with a .800 winning percentage on the season. As of March 11th, next in line is the Laval Rocket with a .650 winning percentage.
On the league side of things, they sit at second in the league only to the Henderson Silver Knights who at this point, only have one loss on the season. Stockton started out a little shaky with a rookie goaltender and no game action for months. After dropping two to the Toronto Marlies, they have not looked back since. This current winning streak breaks a team record not only in consecutive wins, but also consecutive road wins.
This checks out. 🔥
— Stockton Heat (Now in Celsius) (@AHLHeat) March 12, 2021
Recipe for Success
Depth, consistent goaltending, line chemistry, special teams and production all add to the ingredients that have contributed to recent success. Stockton leads the league in power play percentage with 37.1% and even broke 40% a few games ago. Their penalty kill sits at ninth in the league with 84.8%.
Adam Ruzicka has undoubtedly been a hard to miss production leader for the Heat. He came off a huge point streak on March 6th where in the games prior, he had three point games in four straight competitions. His production only took an official two game break and picked up in the last two games against Manitoba where he earned an assist in both. Ruzicka sits tied at second in the league in scoring with 14 points with his linemate, Matthew Phillips not falling too far behind him.
Phillips sits tied for third in the league in scoring with 13 points. Phillips also scored both the tying and game-winning overtime goal in Wednesday’s game against the Moose. Between him and Ruzicka, they have been electric in their playmaking abilities and don’t show any signs of letting up.
On the goaltending side of things, Garret Sparks has been getting the most time between the pipes. He has played six games earning a 2.35 GAA and a 0.923 save percentage. He is credited for four of the Heat’s wins this season. Artyom Zagidulin has also earned a pair of victories and sits at a 3.45 GAA and a .900 save percentage. If no significant changes are made to the Flames taxi squad and injuries are avoided, these two are expected to be the Stockton netminding regulars. Stockton goaltending has kept these guys in games when they got off to a slow start or the opposing team looks to make a comeback. They have been an integral part of the well-rounded team effort.
Here for a Good Time, Not a Long Time
There are good things to come out of the unconventional season and pandemic. Season delays in other leagues such as the WHL have allowed the Heat to get a preview of the future of their team or even provide a first-hand scouting report to the Flames if they skip the AHL altogether. Dustin Wolf was one of these players. Wolf got three appearances in net with the Heat before returning to the Everett Silvertips. He was even recognized as a leader in a recent Tweet sent out by the team.
Leadership Announced for 2020-21 Season #LetsGoTips
— Everett Silvertips (@WHLsilvertips) March 12, 2021
Another departure that stings is Connor Zary. Zary played his last game with the Heat on March 10th and returned to the Kamloops Blazers on March 11th. Zary represented Team Canada in the 2021 World Juniors and finished the tournament with a silver medal. In his nine games with the Heat, he was an immediate impact player getting top-line opportunities and earning three goals and four assists for a combined seven points. He played alongside Matthew Phillips and Adam Ruzicka.
When asked if the line chemistry would change when Zary would have to inevitably leave, Ruzicka didn’t seem to think there would be much of an upset and went on to say,
“I need to connect with everybody on this team.”
Head Coach Cail MacLean also commented on Zary’s departure following Thursday’s win saying,
“Tough to see him go just because we were real successful with him and he was real successful in that he got along well with everyone and they really appreciated him. I think he loved the experience.”
The Road Ahead
The Heat will close out their road trip following the completion of their game against the Manitoba Moose on Saturday, March 13th. They have not been on home ice since February 26th. They will start a four game home series on March 18th against a team they have yet to play, the Laval Rocket. For the time being, they’re on winning streak watch and hope to continue this trend at 1pm (MST) on Saturday.