It’s crunch time for the Heat, but with so many key contributors in Calgary due to injuries, it was going to be a week that really tested the depth of the team.
But good news came early in the week during the Heat’s lengthy stay in Texas in the form of Dillon Dube coming to the Stockton Heat.
The talented forward’s season, and potentially junior career, came to an end against Jusso Valimaki and his Tri-City Americans. Dube finished his season playing 53 games for Kelowna, recording 38 goals and 84 points to go along with 2 goals in his four postseason games.
He also captained Team Canada’s World Junior Team to a gold medal, recording three goals and five points in his five games wearing the “C” on his chest.
And for the Heat, the addition of a potential game changing forward with players like Spencer Foo and Andrew Mangiapane absent from the lineup due to call-up and injury was a key addition as the team fights for their playoff lives.
“It’d be nice to get in the playoffs and go on a long run with this group,” Dube said with a smile from ear-to-ear. “Obviously we’re fighting for everything right now, and anything I can do to help would be nice.
“I’m happy to be able to play; the intensity is going to be just like that Game 5 last year.”
For Dube, his special moment, his first ever professional game came last season in Game 5 of the Pacific Division Semifinals against the San Jose Barracuda in a winner-take-all game.
Dube had chances as the game grew older, showcasing a surprising poise for a player making his debut in such high-stakes.
But then again, that’s really all the second rounder in 2016 remembers about his pro debut.
“Honestly, it was a blur,” Dube recalls. “I got in the night before and had no idea I was playing and everything happened so fast, I think the moment just went over my head. It was a win or lose game, so the stakes were high and everyone was at their best.
“It showed me that pro hockey is a highly intense game, something I took with me into this season. It’s tough to make an impact each and every shift when the stakes are that high. So, I tried to have that kind of consistency throughout my game this year, building off that one pro game.”
You could see Dube showcase that confidence even in the first game. Skating alongside Hunter Shinkaruk and Brett Findlay, Dube played his first regular season game as a pro and continued the lasting impression he left on his coach for a day, Heat bench boss Ryan Huska.
“His first few shifts I thought he was a little tentative, but after that I thought he was one of our better forwards,” Huska said. “He was skating and making plays and had a lot of composure for guy that is playing in his first game of pro hockey with us.
“Not to mention he was thrown into a situation where we were pretty much in a ‘must win’ situation.”
While he didn’t pick up any points in his season debut, or in his first home game inside Stockton Arena on Friday night, Dube finally got the monkey off his back and picked up his first pro points on Saturday, two assists, in an unfortunate loss to San Jose.
“It felt good obviously, a relief, and I felt like I could really start playing my game,” Dube said. “It’s nice to get that off my back, but it’s too bad it didn’t really have an outcome in the game. It’s now just one game at a time, and you can’t look past any one of them.
“We just have to worry about what we can control, and whatever falls into our lap will be nice.”
While recognizing the bigger picture of a Heat loss made the trek to the postseason a difficult one to traverse, his coach was once again impressed by his game. So much so that Dube spent most of the game on the top line, being moved with Colin Smith and Morgan Klimchuk.
“I thought tonight was similar to his first game in Texas, which I liked,” Huska said. “Once we moved him with Klimmer and Smitty, their line was very good and Dillon was dangerous, created some chances for us and he was able to get a couple points.”
So for the young man, whose goal was to build confidence heading into a pivotal offseason for himself where he’ll could turn pro with the Flames or Heat, or be headed back to Kelowna for his overage season, his confidence must be brimming after his game on Saturday, something he feels he needs in order to push for a spot in the pro ranks.
“Taking a step is my goal, wherever it may be,” Dube said. “I want to gain some confidence here to take with me in the summer and get ready for pro. Last year being in Stockton for the playoffs, wasn’t as much of a confidence booster because it was just one game, but with this opportunity it’s a chance to become a pro, and in the summer have more confidence that I am a pro.
“I know it’s going to be an adjustment, I only played 50-some-odd games this season in Kelowna but however many I get here this season will be a huge adjustment, but one I’m excited to try and make the most of.”
– Stockton’s playoff hopes rely solely on this scenario. The Heat must conclude the final week of the season with three wins, a home game on Wednesday against Ontario, a Friday night road finale in Southern California against the Ontario Reign, and one final home game against the San Jose Barracuda on Saturday at Stockton Arena. However, the team also needs the San Diego Gulls to lose all three of their remaining games to the top team in the Pacific, the Tucson Roadrunners, in regulation, as the Gulls clinch with a single point earned
– This week may have been some of the best hockey Emile Poirier has played all season long, as the forward picked up points in all three games (1-3-4) and has 5 points in his last 5 games
– Tyler Wotherspoon recorded his 30th assist of the season to tie Rasmus Andersson for the team lead in that category. Wotherspoon is closing out his most successful campaign offensively as he is tied for eighth among all AHL defencemen with 37 points this season
– As the Flames season draws to a close, there were 11 skaters who played underneath the tutelage of Heat head coach Ryan Huska who combined to play 261 games, scoring 25 goals and recording 50 points (Mark Jankowski, Garnet Hathaway, Brett Kulak, Spencer Foo, Tanner Glass, Rasmus Andersson, Marek Hrivik, Freddie Hamilton, Ryan Lomberg, Andrew Mangiapane, Morgan Klimchuk) to go along with two goalies who combined to start 25 games (32 appearances) for the Flames this season posting a 11-11-4 record (David Rittich and Jon Gillies)
– Mangiapane, Lomberg, Klimchuk and Foo all made NHL debuts for the Flames this season, making it now 13 Heat players since 2015-16 to make their debuts for the big club
“He is more engaged. Offence aside, if he is skating and working and competing the way we saw tonight, things will happen for him. He just has to make sure he doesn’t let his foot off the gas pedal and get complacent with things start to go his way like they are right now.” – Ryan Huska on Emile Poirier’s game
“It’s a tough situation because we’ve had a lot of hockey in a short period of time, mixed with some travel, and in those situations, we have to play smart. Tonight, we were loose, sloppy and high-risk, and when you play that way, you’re not going to win. It comes from the details of the game and our play away from pucks. In those situations, we weren’t good enough tonight.” – Ryan Huska on his team not playing a “smart” game against San Jose on Saturday
“For the last month we have been in this same position trying to push for the final spot. We are well aware of the situation and there is no room for error anymore. We have to show up and put up and make sure we do everything to get two points.” – Ryan Lomberg on the team’s mentality