The kids, it turns out, are quite alright.
Goals in the AHL, just a step away from hockey’s pinnacle, don’t quite match up with the main prize at the next step. The long-term process is the focus – come into the league, learn to be a pro, develop successful habits, compete and win. A Calder Cup is the reward, but bringing the next wave of talent to Calgary is the drive.
With a shortened runway prior to the season – Stockton skated just once before the games counted – there’s a lot of learning on the job.
But with opening weekend upon them, the Heat rode the rookies en route to a successful first two games, taking three of a possible four points against divisional foe Tucson on home ice.
In game one it was Dustin Wolf who did the heavy lifting, a perfect 34 stops on 34 shots faced in regulation before one puck snuck past in overtime in a 1-0 defeat.
In game two, while it was a veteran in Justin Kirkland who got the scoring started, there were rookies Walker Duehr and Jakob Pelletier each potting their first professional goals to push the Heat past the finish line. Oh, and there was another, ho-hum, 32-for-34 evening for Wolf between the pipes.
For the latter two goal scorers – Duehr’s first tally coming just 14 ticks into the middle frame and Pelletier’s lamp-lighter proving to be the game-winner coming just 1:42 later – you could see those coming. The newcomers to professional hockey came on strong toward the end of Friday’s contest, generating scoring chances but ultimately unable to beat Roadrunners netminder, Ivan Prosvetov in the shutout.
“We preach process and progression,” said head coach Mitch Love when pressed about the play of the freshmen. “We want to get better each and every day. I thought (Duehr, Pelletier and Wolf) gave us quality performances. I know Jakob, he really wanted to elevate his game (Saturday). He did a really great job, some of the finer details of good stick positioning, stick placement, getting to the hard areas. I thought he was competitive, and he got rewarded offensively. So did Walker. Again, that’s what we want to see out of all of our players.”
Now, the fun starts.
Two games of film means plenty of opportunity for Love and the staff to fine-tune the kinks, work through the trouble areas and keep their group gelling as a team. Two of the three goal scorers from the weekend finale could not be found on Stockton’s roster until two days before the opener. They had one practice with their teammates before hitting the ice on opening night.
After a fast start, it’s easy to see why optimism is high around Stockton Arena.
The Heat have a week of practice ahead before hitting the road for a pair of games in southern California – Friday at San Diego and Saturday against rival Bakersfield.
“We’ll sit with some individuals and evaluate the games, see where guys are at and what we need to continue to work with,” said Love. “As a team, we want to make sure we practice hard, that we have good pace with our practice, that our execution is a little bit better. I think now that we have a few game reps, it does help the guys with their rhythm. Maybe find some line combinations, pairings, and try to get ourselves ready for taking off for San Diego.”
LAST WEEK’S RESULTS
Friday vs. Tucson – OTL, 1-0
Saturday vs. Tucson – W, 3-2
- Pelletier and Ryan Francis each made their respective professional debuts over the weekend with the Heat.
- Dustin Wolf finished the weekend with 66 saves on 69 shots faced, a .957 Save Percentage.
- The Heat penalty kill went 5-for-6 in the two games, including a perfect 5-for-5 on opening night.
- Adam Ruzicka recorded Stockton’s first multi-point game of the season with a pair of assists in Saturday’s win.
THEY SAID IT
“It was a tale of two games. We got off to a good start. I liked our first period. We got a couple of quick goals early in the second, then I thought we kind of sat back a little bit. Tucson started to play more of their game and we kind of got away from ours. Still, a credit to our guys. We stuck with it in the third period. I thought we had some pockets where we were pretty good in the third. Guys found their first win of the year, which is a fun one to get.” – Mitch Love on Stockton’s first win of the season
“(Duehr and Pelletier) have both been fantastic. I’ve been playing with (Duehr) a little bit, and he’s got lightning speed that’s a defenseman’s worst nightmare. To see him get that monkey off his back (with his first goal) after getting a couple of chances (Friday) was awesome. (Pelletier) is a great kid, does a little bit of everything. Awesome guy to have around in the locker room, on the team. Just really happy for those guys.” – Justin Kirkland on rookies Duehr and Pelletier after their respective first goals
“I thought it went pretty well. I wasn’t too satisfied with how (Friday) ended. I wanted to come back (Saturday) and get back in the win column. I think our team was able to grow not only from (Friday) but into (Saturday), score some goals. It was great to get those first two points of the year.” – Dustin Wolf on Stockton’s first two games
“I thought (Calgary) camp went great. It was a great experience for me. There were a lot of things I was able to learn. Just a great experience to be around those guys, be around that environment and be able to learn.” – Walker Duehr recounting his stay at Flames camp
“Since (the preseason game at Bakersfield), I think he’s our best player each day. He’s just incredible.” – Jakob Pelletier on the play of Dustin Wolf