(photo credit: Jack Lima Photography)
The Stockton Heat took to pink ice over the weekend for the first Hot Pink 1, a weekend dedicated to raising awareness in the fight against breast cancer. Although this was the first time for the AHL franchise, it was the 10th time the ice has been pink out in Stockton to raise awareness for breast cancer and to aid the local St Joseph’s Foundation- Breast Health Services. Over the last nine seasons as the ECHL Stockton Thunder, over $247,085 has been donated through both a silent and live jersey auction.
The Bakersfield Condors came to town on Friday night and it was the first meeting of the season for the two teams. The rivalry runs deep with over ten years of history and 105 games played between the former ECHL teams. The parent clubs Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames have their own brand of rivalry with “The Battle of Alberta”, the two teams being a mere three hour drive between cities.
The Ontario Reign, AHL affiliate of the LA Kings, then visited Stockton Arena to conclude Hot Pink 1 on Saturday night. It would be another first meeting for the Stockton Heat and again no love lost between the two teams as they were former ECHL rivals.
Penalty Trouble, Turnovers and Goalie Changes
The Condors came out on Friday night and played a solid defensive game. The Heat looked flat and it took the team two periods to find their legs and get to the net, but by then it was too late to make a difference. Heat Forward Turner Elson captured the mood of the hockey game:
“We started off really slow the first two periods. We didn’t get our nose dirty, we didn’t play the body, we didn’t really do anything. In the third period we wanted to give this a shot and we started going to the net, shooting the puck and the whole game changed for us.”
The Condors applied good offensive pressure, particularly down low and tried to create as many scoring chances as they could by crowding the net in front of Heat netminder John Gillies. Bakersfield forced Gillies to make some challenging and awkward saves. After the puck took an odd bounce and Gillies went for the save, he appeared to injure himself and left the ice at the end of the first period.
Goaltender Kent Simpson came in relief and it was the first time he had seen AHL action this season. His last AHL start came back on March 20th where he played for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in a 3-1 win over the Springfield Falcons.
When asked how Simpson felt coming in during the second frame:
“It’s a little more adrenaline than usual but you just try to take a deep breath and know that the guys are banking on you to be sharp when you get in there. I felt pretty comfortable out there. I would have liked to have made a save out there somehow to keep the guys in the game and force overtime or something. The guys came out with a big push in the third and played really well, obviously we were pushing but we couldn’t get another one in, that is the way it goes sometimes.”
The Heat spent most of the second period managing penalty minutes and turning over the puck to the advancing Condors. They struggled to win face-offs, particularly defensive-zone face-offs. Heat Coach Huska knows his guys can compete on the face-off dots but he said, “Tonite was a night where we had a little bit of struggles in the face-off circle.You challenge your centermen every night to make sure you are tying or winning your draws. Tonite there wasn’t one guy that really stood out.”
The penalties, turnovers and face-off losses contributed to a Condors two-goal lead by the end of the second. Bakersfield holds the league lead for power play goals on the road ( 37.5% ) and they capitalized with defenseman Brad Hunt grabbing a goal with the man advantage.
The legs finally started working for the Heat in the third period. They got more pucks to the net and put their bodies on the line. Forward Freddie Hamilton made some solid plays all night. He is a player that consistently finds the open areas and is a playmaker, yet most of the time flies under the radar with his simple plays. Hamilton’s heads up play gave Markus Granlund the puck, who would net the only goal for the Heat in the third period and deny Condors goaltender Laurent Brossoit a shutout on the evening. The Stockton Heat would lose to the Condors 2-1.
More Penalty Trouble, Goalie Changes, Fights and a Shutout
After a lackluster performance on Friday night, the Heat were looking to split the Hot Pink Weekend and give their fans something to get excited about. The Ontario Reign have started their season hot (6-1-2-0) and sit at the top of the Pacific Division, so it would not be an easy win. Heat starting goaltender John Gillies was out and considered day to day with a lower body injury after Friday night’s loss, so Stockton signed ECHL Idaho Steelheads goaltender Eric Hartzell to a PTO to back up Kent Simpson. Hartzell has shown his netminding skill during the preseason with the Stockton Heat.
The Heat came out physical and both teams were going heavy to the boards but penalty trouble and some bad luck put the Heat down in the first period in just a span of 30 seconds of game time. Reign goaltender Peter Budaj delivered a solid performance in net, stopping all 38 saves he faced and earned his league-leading fourth shutout on the season to defeat the Stockton Heat 4-0.
Special teams prevailed as penalties dominated the pace of the game for both teams. Reign Forward and power play points leader Sean Backman got the Reign on the board first during a 5-on-3 power play in the first period, receiving a pass from Nic Dowd to sneak the puck past Heat goaltender Kent Simpson. Jordan Samuels-Thomas doubled the lead at 16:41 of the first when, after taking a slashing penalty, sprung out of the box and received a pass from Justin Auger. Then just a few seconds later, Samuels-Thomas got a high tip-in off the stick of Scott Sabourin to give the Reign a 3-0 lead at the end of the first period.
Reign Jordan Samuels-Thomas netted a natural hat trick to give the Reign a solid lead over the Stockton Heat in the early part of the second period and chase Heat netminder Kent Simpson from the net. Reign defenseman and Captain Vincent LoVerde earned his 100th career point with the secondary assist as he sent the puck to Ryan Horvat, who then sent it Samuels-Thomas’ way in front of the net. The Heat then brought in goaltender Eric Hartzell to turn a new page for the team. He delivered a solid performance in net, stopping all 17 shots he faced.
“I made sure I was prepared for the game regardless of what happened,” said Hartzell. “I felt good out there. At the end there when it got a little chaotic I just tried to control the middle of the net. The defense did a great job of clearing out rebounds and they definitely helped me out.”
The game then got physical as the Heat battled for the puck along the boards and intensified their efforts to get past Budaj in net. Three altercations broke out in the period with Reign Sabourin mixing it up with Heat Dustin Stevenson, Reign Paul Bissonnette taking on Hunter Smith and Reign Kurtis MacDermid scraping with Colton Orr in the middle frame.
With more penalties, Heat Forward Drew Shore attempted a short-handed tally, but although the puck was sitting just behind Budaj, the goal was waved off due to a whistle. The Heat continued to pressure and pour on the shots but the solid netminding from Budaj kept Stockton off the scoresheet, losing to the Reign 4-0.
Heat Coach Huska on his teams’ effort despite the shutout:
“We didn’t get a save early on tonight. It might sound strange when you lose a game 4-0 but we played well tonight. We really did. I thought we did a lot of good things in regards to putting pucks to the net. I thought we were physical. It’s tough when you get yourself behind the 8-ball to a very good hockey club , but we competed and battled and played the way we want our guys to play.”
Reign Coach Mike Stothers on the game:
“It was kind of a weird game. I don’t think the score was indicative of, I don’t think we played very well at all. That’s not the way we play and somehow the pucks found their way into the back of the net. Not one of our shining moments as far as I’m concerned. We were uncharacteristic with our turnovers, uncharacteristic with our shots against, uncharacteristic with the time we spent in our end and uncharacteristic of me to not be very happy with our players.”