Can a New Year’s Resolution be to change, well, nothing?
If so, sign the Stockton Heat up.
The Heat rolled into their annual New Year’s Eve contest Tuesday night with the club’s best point total in the team’s five-year history, topping the previous high set in 2017 by five, the best point percentage in team history at .707, most goals at the turn of the calendar by a country mile, and the best complement of special teams units in Stockton’s AHL tenure.
While the rest of the world was enjoying the end of the 2010’s, and unfortunately for the San Jose Barracuda that night, goaltender Jon Gillies was not in the mood to witness any opposing celebrations.
The veteran netminder turned away 29 shots while posting Stockton’s first shutout since January of 2018, a 4-0 win in which the Heat got goals from Glenn Gawdin, Buddy Robinson, Austin Czarnik and Eetu Tuulola to send the 20-teens out in style.
“It was a good game,” said Gillies. “I thought we were really cognizant of (San Jose’s attack) more tonight than in the past. Whenever they had a guy in a shooting position, we had a stick on it right away. We did a great job limiting their chances and holding them to lower percentage shots.”
Stockton then opened the new year with a pair of home contests against the Ontario Reign, a weekend series the clubs split after two hard-fought battles.
In Friday’s game, the Heat took a trio of one-goal leads at 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 before rattling off three unanswered goals after a 3-3 tie to close out the game. The resilient group peppered Ontario netminder Cal Petersen with 37 shots in the contest en route to the win, with Czarnik, Rinat Valiev and Robinson finding the back of the net up to the 3-3 tie in the second and then captain Byron Froese, rookies Luke Philp and Adam Ruzicka closing out the contest.
“We did a poor job of once we took the lead, finding a way to sustain it,” said Heat head coach Cail MacLean. “A couple of times over, we gave goals right back. Luke (Philp) getting us (a two- goal lead), was a big play. We were able to extend (the lead), and that was a great aid to everything, just able to settle the team down.”
On Saturday, the team’s 32nd game of the campaign, the Heat had a season-first: they were held to fewer than two goals in a game. Alan Quine gave the Heat the early edge, tapping home a Corey Schueneman feed for the 1-0 advantage, but momentum swung in the second as Ontario lit the lamp just 37 seconds into the frame to draw even, then Brett Sutter beat Artyom Zagidulin for the decisive 2-1 tally 12:44 into the middle period. Despite a frantic late push, the Heat couldn’t beat Matthew Villalta late, the netminder turning away 30 of 31 pucks he saw on the night.
The Heat will look to close out their four-game home stand, longest of the season thus far, on a high note as the club faces off against Pacific Division rival Bakersfield Wednesday.
- Glenn Gawdin and Matthew Phillips were selected for the AHL All-Star Classic. Gawdin enters the week fourth in the league scoring with 35 points (11g,24a). Phillips, who has missed time due to a lower-body injury, has 30 points (14g,16a) in 28 outings this season.
- Czarnik matched the longest goal-scoring streak in the AHL this season when he lit the lamp in six consecutive games, a run that came to a close in Saturday’s contest. Through nine games with the Heat this season, Czarnik has 10 points (6g,4a).
- Quine has four goals and nine points over Stockton’s last five games.
- The Heat enter the week ranked second on both the powerplay (26.0%) and penalty-kill (87.2%).
- Robinson has points in four of Stockton’s last five games, including two goals and an assist on an active three-game point streak.
THEY SAID IT:
“(Gillies) was the player of the game for us, for sure. He had first-star honors, and that second period was instrumental with Jon stepping up and being able to get through that and maintain the lead. He had a great night. The team has been working toward playing better defensively, and Jon was instrumental in that.” – MacLean on Gillies’ shutout Tuesday
“(Czarnik) is so lethal with his shot. He obviously has a NHL-caliber shot, his accuracy and release. He is very comfortable on that side of the ice and has pinpoint accuracy. Austin, we’ve seen it now enough times, you have to give him a lot of credit for being able to pick his spot whether it’s shooting close-side or far-side, as a goalie you can’t assume either side because he can go either spot.” – MacLean on Czarnik’s offensive ability
“It’s pretty exciting. To be able to be recognized, especially with your roommate and friend, it’s pretty nice. (It’s unfortunate Matthew Phillips) won’t be able to take part, but just for him to be recognized, he deserves it.” – Gawdin on being named an all-star with Phillips, who won’t attend game due to injury
“It feels really good. It’s obviously a big honor. There’s a lot of good players not only going this year but that have been there in the past. It’s really cool as well that (Gawdin) and I both got named together. He’ll do a really good job representing the team.” – Phillips on his all-star honor
“I’m feeling good. November was tough for me for scoring, but I’ve stuck with it. I’ve got some chemistry with my linemates, (Gawdin) and (Buddy Robinson) have been great to play with, we’re working well together and that helps a lot.” – Quine on his recent offensive uptick