Perhaps it was only fitting that Brett Pollock played the Star-ring role.
Drafted 45th overall in the 2014 NHL draft, Pollock was selected by the Dallas Stars but would never play for the team’s farm team down the road in Cedar Park, Texas, as he was dealt – along with a conditional pick that turned into Dillon Dube – to the Flames.
An up-and-down start to his pro career, Pollock finally played in the building that could have been home and had the Stars seeing red in a 6-2 Heat victory Friday night.
“A little motivation for sure, and it’s funny how it worked out with me getting my first of the year here,” Pollock said. “Now, I just want to continue to build off it.”
Driving to the net, Heat defenceman Cody Goloubef blasted a shot on goal that was stopped, but the rebound fell to Pollock driving to the net and was deflected over the right pad of the Stars netminder.
However, it wasn’t his only one.
His second of the night tied the game up as another shot by a Heat defenceman, this time Colby Robak, was stopped but Pollock pushed the loose puck into the cage while being dragged down from behind.
“Coach and I looked at some video of recent games a few weeks ago and there were times that I’d be driving to the net on the outside of guys,” Pollock explains. “He was really harping on me going to the inside, and that was what I focused on.”
The hard areas of the ice – or as coach Ryan Huska calls them, the uncomfortable areas – where you know you’re going to absorb a stick to the side of the ribs or a well-placed slash, that’s where Pollock needed to take his game.
“The lesson that he’s learned this year is you can’t play this game with soft skill, or with high-risk plays at dangerous areas of the ice,” Huska said. “When you look at the first two goals he scored, he was driving to the net without the puck.
“That’s how goals get scored now-a-days.”
While his second of the night stood as the game-winner, the rookie forward – who entered the game with one career AHL goal – wasn’t done.
Just as a powerplay chance expired, Pollock showcased his skill when Rasmus Andersson found him on the right circle, a catch-and-shoot situation, and Pollock buried his first career hat-trick.
Pollock joins Spencer Foo as the only Heat forwards to record a hat-trick this season, but also joins Mark Jankowski and Hunter Shinkaruk as the only four players to ever record three goals in a game.
“The guys made it pretty easy on me,” Pollock said after the tilt, grinning from ear-to-ear. “I just had to go to the net and tap a few in. The last few games I have finally been feeling myself again, just trying to play simple and go to the net and play hard.
“It feels good.”
After recording his third of the night, his return to the bench saw an exuberant Huska give him more than just a pat on the back, and for a player who’s found himself in and out of the lineup this season, the adulation received from his hardest critic, but biggest supporter in Huska, must’ve meant the world to him.
“It’s a feel-good moment for him,” Huska said after the game, with a similar grin to that of his rookie forward. “He keeps working hard, and he has a good skill set, and it was nice for him to see some results because he has been working hard over the last little while, and he’s given us a little more offensive punch.
“We’re really happy for him.”
The next night with Stockton needing a tying goal once more, they relied on Pollock again to punch one in.
Perhaps his nicest of the weekend, Hunter Shinkaruk sauced one over a defender’s stick in the neutral zone that Pollock knocked down, proceeded to turn NHL defenceman Julius Honka inside out, and rip a well-placed wrister into the cage.
The Regina product had entered the weekend with one career AHL goal, which he scored back on April 10, 2016 when he joined the Heat for a brief stint after his WHL career ended.
“It has been a bit of a difficult year for myself, but I am learning a lot, and I am just trying to simplify things and gain coach’s trust so I can be in the lineup consistently,” Pollock said. “Coming to the rink and trying to get better every day is starting to pay off.”