The Stockton Heat clinched the Pacific Division title on Saturday, April 23 when the Ontario Reign lost and made the Heat mathematically impossible to catch in the standings.
Stockton started off the 2021-22 season very hot and have not cooled down since. They have worked their way up to not only the top of the Pacific but the top of the AHL, as well. This isn’t even fresh news either; they have held these positions for months. After the events of April 23, their spot at the top of the Pacific is secured.
The Heat started with an edge and some large changes in the offseason that helped them restructure the team as a whole. They added the likes of Jakob Pelletier, Dustin Wolf, and Connor Zary as huge full-time players fresh out of juniors. While Zary battled an injury early, Pelletier has been one of the league’s best rookies, and Wolf has been arguably the best goaltender in the AHL. That’s a good place to start when you are formulating a recipe for success.
Another element that has aided in the Heat’s success is its penalty kill. This is another league category they sit at the top of with an 86.8% PK percentage. They also have the second-lowest goals against average as a team (with a lot of credit going to Wolf in that category).
As far as scoring goes, Matthew Phillips and Jakob Pelletier make the AHL’s Top 20 list for goals, assists and total points. But, it is mostly this team’s strength in running all four lines and having any guy score on any given night that has given them an edge in scoring. Justin Kirkland is another forward that finds his way on the scoresheet almost every night without playing top minutes. They have a lot of depth with extra guys ready to slot in when injuries or illnesses come up.
When an AHL team is performing at that level, it is sure to draw attention from the NHL club. Regular call-ups have included Juuso Valimaki, Connor Mackey, and Adam Ruzicka. Glenn Gawdin, Dustin Wolf and Walker Duehr also had brief stints, but spent the majority of their year in a Heat uniform. The Flames are also making the push for a successful postseason run, so it comes down to deciding if a young player should sit on the bench in Calgary or earn AHL playing experience with Stockton. Most cases have been the latter.
With two games to go in the season, the Heat sit at a 44-15-5-2 record. Their winning percentage sits at .720. There is still some time for their league competitors to take Stockton’s spot at the top of the league. They have a new magic number of four to clinch the number one spot in the league. This last week of the regular season will determine if they keep that spot in the standings.
The Heat will wrap up their regular season on Saturday, April 30 with the San Diego Gulls and Bakersfield Condors left on their schedule. Their top Pacific spot has earned them a bye in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs. We shall see if clinching the league this week will give them even more bragging rights.
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