(photo credits: Jack Lima Photography)
The AHL finally came to the West Coast, and the Calgary Flames affiliate Stockton Heat put on a goal clinic for their Inaugural Season opener at Stockton Arena Saturday night, shutting out the visiting Rockford IceHogs 7-0.
The Stockton Heat came out of the gate on fire, scoring four goals in the first period alone, two of which were on the power play. They showcased their active defensive style, with heavy cycling of the puck at the blueline and defensemen jumping in to keep the IceHogs on their toes. Four different defensemen walked away with points, with two, Oliver Kylington and Jakub Nakladal, netting multi-point games.
Heat Head Coach Ryan Huska was pleased with his team’s solid opening night win. “I liked our game tonight,” said Huska. “I thought our older players, in particular their preparation was very good and I think it allowed us to get off to a good start tonight.”
The power play in particular gave the Heat an edge early on, as Rockford fell quickly into penalty trouble. Stockton took advantage with Bill Arnold and Marcus Granlund getting the puck past veteran IceHogs goaltender Michael Leighton during the first period.
“Our power play did a great job early on in the first period,” said Coach Huska. “It allowed us to get the lead and I felt that we continued at that point instead of letting our foot off the gas. It was nice to see for the first win of the year.”
The four goals tallied in the first period by the Heat chased IceHogs Leighton from the net and brought in Mac Carruth, who has since been reassigned to the ECHL Indy Fuel. Carruth was able to slow the bleeding between the pipes, allowing just one goal in the second.
The Heat didn’t give Rockford much room to move through the neutral zone, and they struggled to generate an offensive push. The first period shots were telling with just eight reaching Heat goaltender Jon Gillies. The IceHogs didn’t fare much better in the second period, generating just three shots, and penalty problems continuing. Stockton, instead continued their offensive onslaught, adding another goal early in the second. Heat Forward Drew Shore caught the puck from Kenny Agostino and drove it through traffic to make the score 5-0 thirty-five seconds into the second frame.
The Heat added two more goals in the final period. The sixth goal came just a minute in with a quick release from Derek Grant in the slot to beat Rockford’s Carruth. Number seven, a power play goal was tallied by former Worcester Sharks Forward Freddie Hamilton, who received a gift from the blueline off the stick of defenseman Oliver Kylington.
“It was a total team effort tonight,” Heat goaltender Gillies said. “Our guys backchecked hard all night and never got complacent with the big lead. It’s a testament to the mentality in this locker room and how things will be all season.”
Players to watch on the Blueline:
Two players instantly took the spotlight for the Heat on opening night with their solid blueline play. Not only did they help shut down any drive Rockford tried to generate, their offensive skills were highlight reel worthy. Both Oliver Kylington and Jakub Nakadul were keys to the Heat’s win over the Rockford IceHogs. The depth along the blueline for Stockton had been the talk of training camp and the two’s performance on Saturday night furthered those discussions.
For Nakladul, it is his cycling the puck and his quick decision-making, along with a wicked shot from up top that characterizes his play.
“He surprised us a little with his puck handling ability,” said Coach Huska after Saturday night’s scorcher. The way he was moving things up top. He wasn’t afraid to use his shot either which is something that is very important.”
Kylington might be just an eighteen year old defender fresh from the Swedish league, but his hockey sense is all over the map. His offensive skills are sharp and Heat Coach Huska knew what the young defenseman could bring to the table offensively and has been impressed with how he handles himself on the ice and his composure with the puck.
Kylington feels that the North American style of play fits him better and that the game moves much faster than in the Swedish league. “This ice (NHL ice) fits me too. I think you have much more space and room to do stuff with the puck in the offensive zone and I like to play in the offensive zone.”
The 2014 NCAA Champion netminder from Providence College and playing for the USA in the 2014 World Junior Championship, Jon Gillies seems to be everything a team could want in a goaltender. His 6’6″ frame fills the net and he solidly stopped all nineteen shots he faced on Saturday, earning his first professional shutout.
“I just try to use my size and play solid positionally,” Gillies said. “I think a lot of the times you see a goalie make a wildly athletic save it means he was out of position. I just try to stay steady and use my size to make it difficult on the shooter.”
Heat Coach Huska echoed Gillies saying, “He made saves tonight and he made them look relatively easy and that is the nice thing about having a goaltender his size and with his athletic ability in the net for us. Now his challenge is to back it up…and be ready for the next one.”
To see game highlights, visit AHLlive.
The Stockton Heat will face the San Jose Barracuda on Thursday October 15 at Stockton Arena. It will be the first meeting of the teams since the preseason and if both teams’ inaugural openers are any indication, the Heat will hold a clear edge in puck possession and giving the Barracuda dmen pause for thought.