The season came down to one game.
Unfortunately for the Stockton Heat, they came up short with a 2-1 loss to the San Jose Barracuda April 14, ending their playoff hopes.
It was a tough way to close out the 2017-18 campaign.
“There’s still a feeling of being uncomfortable when you’re that close,” head coach Ryan Huska said. “We had one game to get in … It’s a tough pill to swallow.”
“You look back at the early points of the year, you can’t help but think – could we have done something differently?”
The process of analyzing the season and breaking down the positives and negatives began right after the loss.
“(We want to) learn some lessons from this year to take into next year,” Huska said. “Whether that means changing the way we play overtime, our shootout choices, the decisions of who to start in net on occasion. All of those little things come into play and this is the time of the year you have to reflect and find out what went wrong and find solutions.”
Despite missing the playoffs, there was a ton of positives to take away from the year.
The emergence of Andrew Mangiapane, who was named the team’s MVP and Offensive Player of the Year, who in just 39 games played racked up 21 goals and 46 points in his second season.
Or Morgan Klimchuk, who recorded back-to-back 19-goal seasons and continued to be a presence away from the ice as well, being named a co-recipient with Luke Gazdic as the Heat’s Community Service Award Winner.
Or Ryan Lomberg, who continued to play with speed, tenacity, grit, and be a player opposing teams hated to go up against. He was voted by fans as their favorite player.
Or the Heat’s Defensive Player of the Year, Rasmus Andersson, who took a big step forward in his development after a 39-point season saw him lead all Heat defensemen in points, and tie for seventh most in the AHL.
How about some love for the Heat’s rookie of the year, Spencer Foo, who rounded into form midway through the year and finished with 20 goals and 39 points.
Coincidentally, all of the players above made their presences felt in Calgary, with four of the five (Rasmus not included) making their NHL debuts this season.
Stockton’s mission is to win a Calder Cup and send contributing members up to the Flames in hopes they can step in and make an impact.
That was certainly the case this year.
A total of 11 skaters from the Heat combined to play 261 games for the Flames, scored 25 goals and recorded 50 points.
With the bulk of those points coming from reigning team MVP Mark Jankowski, he was joined by Mangiapane, Foo, Andersson, Lomberg, Morgan Klimchuk, Garnet Hathaway, Brett Kulak, Tanner Glass, Marek Hrivik, and Freddie Hamilton.
Goalies David Rittich and Jon Gillies started 25 games for the big club, made 32 appearances and posted a combined 11-11-4 record.
Regardless of who got the call-up to Calgary, or who was injured, the Heat continued to battle for every inch this season.
They left everything on the ice.
“There were some real good improvements from a lot of our players,” Huska explained. “Every team in the American League goes through stretches where they lose important hockey players, be it to injuries or call-ups. For us, the disappointing part we wanted our guys to play in the meaningful games, the ones coming up this weekend.”