CALGARY – We go into the weekend with no Stockton Heat hockey to watch. Not that they haven’t had weekends off throughout the season, but this time, there will be no games for quite some time. They wrapped up their season on Thursday evening with a 2-1 loss against the Manitoba Moose. With the AHL’s postseason announcement on the same day, it appears there would be no playoff games to be played even if they were placed higher in their division. Instead, the team with the best point percentage in the league will win the Frank S. Mathers Trophy, which is poised to be the award for the Laval Rocket.
Not a Very Memorable Finish
One look at the final scores, overall record or standings, and things don’t look so hot for this team. They started out strong but in the last 20 games of the season, they were only able to come away with four wins. Their final points percentage finished up at .400, sitting at the bottom five of the league. Here is how the Canadian series faired for the American team this year.
Toronto Marlies: 4-4-0-0
Laval Rocket: 2-4-0-0
Manitoba Moose: 4-5-0-0
Belleville Senators: 1-5-1-0
Now on to the more positive things that happened this season. In their last game, the Heat earned their first and only shorthanded goal of the year and it was well celebrated. Eetu Tulola got a beautiful feed from Heat top scorers Adam Ruzicka and Matthew Phillips, and it paid off for sure.
sup shorty? pic.twitter.com/Umxp7FH72i
— Stockton Heat (@AHLHeat) April 29, 2021
Connor Mackey also established himself as an offensive defenseman in this league, sitting in the top ten defensive scoring and fourth in scoring on the Heat with 16 points. His play has spoken for itself and definitely earned him the attention from the Flames this year.
Veteran goaltender Garret Sparks did a great job playing his part on this team and eating up starts and saves when roster shuffles came. He sits at top five in the AHL for saves with 421 and played in 16/30 games for the Heat this season.
Another notable accomplishment is Ruzicka’s record-breaking stretch of multi-point games. From February 23 to March 5, Ruzicka had a four-game streak of multi-point games that broke the team record. Despite the setbacks the team faced, he still finished up the season tied with Phillips for points with 21 and leading the team in goals with 11.
It’s Good to Be Home…Or Is It?
The Heat arguably played zero home games this season, playing out of the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary. While the Calgary crowd may have worked in their favor, this was just not feasible with the regional restrictions. They played in an empty arena with some cardboard cutouts set up for the Calgary Flames and that did not result in any sort of home-ice advantage. The Heat played their last game at home on April 17 and finished off with a record of 2-8-1. Hopefully, something that will be easier to build off next season.
Quotables from Coach
Head Coach Cail MacLean checked in with the media following their last game against Manitoba and had some interesting things to say about the year his team has had. When asked about playing in the Canadian division, he said:
“You gain a lot of perspective when you see different teams. When you see different styles. I would say when you look at the Manitoba’s and Laval’s of the Canadian division, they bring one style. Toronto brings their own particular style in terms of the possession game they play. Belleville’s very fast. I think we got a really good array of competition.”
The season was quick but gave the Heat some stretches of games they could play out, almost like mini-playoff series. With how rare it is for the Heat to see the Canadian teams in a typical season, it could be an extended period of time before they play them again. MacLean was asked if he would’ve liked one more crack at any of the teams in particular, and while he would’ve liked to see them all again, Laval stood out the most to him.
“I do think our record against Laval was not good and it was a battle for us. So I’d like to play them again. I think they’re a great team and I think when you get into situations like that, it makes you better. I’d love to have them again.”
Delaying the Offseason
Just because the Heat are done, it does not mean there are not teams for these players to play with for at least the next few weeks. The team confirmed Greg Moro, Koletrane Wilson, Giorgio Estephan and Andrew Shortridge made their way to Kansas City on Friday.
— Stockton Heat (@AHLHeat) April 30, 2021
There is also still time on the taxi squad. Byron Froese, Connor Mackey, and Glenn Gawdin are all currently up on the taxi squad. Louis Domingue and Michael Stone are also some players who were able to get in a few games with the Heat now getting NHL action. Stone has played in 14 NHL games this season and counting. Domingue and Artyom Zagidulin have been in the rotation to back up Jacob Markstrom as of late, but Domingue has only seen NHL action in one game this year.
Their big club, on the other hand, is in a tough spot, scrapping for a playoff spot. Unless the Flames playoff chances become statistically impossible, the reluctance to get some prospects in the lineup could stay present through the last few games. Even so, other Heat players are still here for the Flames pickings for a bit in case they are needed.
Two standout players, in particular, looking to get NHL opportunities are Adam Ruzicka and Matthew Phillips. Ruzicka’s got another year on his contract, but Phillips is a restricted free agent going into the offseason. When Phillips was asked about the potential of him and/or Ruzicka getting a shot with the Flames in the next couple of weeks, he said:
“That’s something kind of out of our hands now. We’ve sort of laid it all out and done what we can do. Whatever the future holds for us in these next few days, we’ve just got to kind of roll with it.”
Fans would like to see more of these players and time will tell how the cards fall. The Heat is scheduled to meet with the media one more time before they pack everything up and head home. They are set to begin the 2021-22 regular season in October.