Zac Leslie stood outside of the visitor’s locker-room in San Diego, fresh off a 5-1 drubbing of the Gulls at Pechanga Arena.
It was Oct. 18, and the Heat had just responded emphatically after taking their first loss of the season three days earlier.
“Good teams aren’t going to lose two games in a row,” he said. “We think we’re one of those good teams. At the end of the day, we don’t feel we should ever lose two games in a row.”
A month later, that sentiment rings just as true.
The past week of Stockton Heat hockey started on a familiar note – a victory over the San Diego Gulls, one that snapped a four-game win streak for Anaheim’s AHL affiliate.
It came the hard way, a three-goal lead turning into a 3-3 tie in the third period – a stalemate that was broken by Luke Philp, with his first professional goal, with just 7:01 left. The score opened the flood gates, the first of three-straight from the Heat – two of which came from Philp, in a 6-3 win.
Four days later, the road got rougher. First-place Tucson came to town and flexed its muscle on the Heat’s home ice, a 5-2 win adding some breathing room for the Roadrunners at the top of the Pacific Division standings. The Heat never led and never seemed to grasp momentum in the contest. Each Heat goal was responded to quickly, penalties mounted as the team tried to muster a third-period rally, and ultimately the result was a close battle that got away late, with Tucson tacking on goals four and five in the game’s final five minutes.
“Our team didn’t compete hard enough,” said a blunt Cail MacLean minutes after the contest, the team’s coach frustrated with the showing. “I didn’t feel like we were mentally focused enough to be able to win a game tonight. We made it close with a couple of spurts, but bottom line we didn’t deserve a win.”
Leslie said it himself. Good teams respond.
Just over a minute into Saturday’s contest against a rested San Jose Barracuda club that was idle on Friday, Ryan Lomberg netted a feed from Zac Rinaldo (with a secondary assist from Leslie), and Stockton had a 1-0 lead. The Barracuda responded, two goals midway through the first to snag a 2-1 lead through 20 minutes. The strong start was gone, and it was time to get to work.
The second period went scoreless, though the Heat found a way to tilt the ice with a 15-10 advantage in shots on goal in the frame, spurring a furious push that continued into the third. Again, it was Philp who lit the lamp with the big goal, cashing in on Stockton’s third and final powerplay of the night to draw even at two goals apiece. The Heat had to weather a storm late, Philp whistled for a penalty with just 2:47 left, but after a big kill came the final scoring chance of the night as Byron Froese chipped a puck toward the attacking end, sending the speedy Lomberg into a race for the puck. Lomberg won the battle and threw the puck to the far post, where he found a streaking Justin Kirkland.
Stick. Net. Celly.
The Heat will now hit the road for two full weeks, trips to divisional foes in Bakersfield, San Diego, Ontario and Colorado. If things get a little sideways along the way on the longest road trip of the season, we already know that the Heat will have an answer.
- Stockton is now 4-1-0-1 on the year following losses, and undefeated (3-0) following regulation losses.
- The Heat are now 5-0 on the year when Lomberg scores.
- All three of Philp’s goals this season have come past the halfway mark of the third period. Two of those goals either tied the game or broke a tie.
- The Heat boast the second-best offensive output in the AHL at 3.87 goals-per-game. Stockton is 9-1-1-0 on the year when scoring three or more goals.
- The Heat are 9-1-0-1 on the year against all teams besides the Tucson Roadrunners.
- Matthew Phillips posted a career-best four-point effort (1g,3a) on Monday against San Diego.
THEY SAID IT:
“I thought management of the puck was really good, that’s why we had a good start. I thought we were really good there. We put it behind (San Jose) all night long. Compete was good. We can still get better in that area, but I thought it was solid and it was consistent. I thought composure was solid too. Our leaders stepped up tonight. (Zac) Rinaldo, (Buddy) Robinson, (Byron) Froese and (Ryan) Lomberg – they really stepped up and kept the guys moving in the right direction.” – MacLean on improvements on Saturday over Friday.
“(Saturday’s win) was big. Any time you’re heading out on the road you want to make sure you have a good, confident group going. I think our group is good on the road. The guys like playing there. The style of game we played tonight is similar to how we play on the road. It’s a good warm-up but you always want to get as many points as possible at home and make sure you own your building.” – MacLean on the importance of Saturday’s win.
“We know, especially after (Friday) night, nobody was happy with the game that we played. We all knew we had more to give and were capable of more. This was a good way to respond. We had everybody going, from the goalie to the forwards. Tonight was really fun.” – Kirkland on strepping up after Friday’s game.
“It was right up there with the most complete games that we’ve played. We had everybody going, everybody making a difference. When you have four lines and all of the ‘D’ going, it makes a difference. It wears (the opponent) down throughout the game. It may seem tedious at times, but when you play predictably and everybody knows what you’re going to do out there, it makes it easy on us.” – Kirkland on Saturday’s win.
“I don’t know what it is with the timing. The powerplay we executed, the breakout, I just had to put it in the empty net. It’s nice to get (goals). Hopefully I can continue that.” – Philp on his timely goal-scoring.