There's starting the season strong.
Then there's starting the season Stockton Heat strong.
Roll into Loveland, Colorado, and win two straight road tilts - 5-2 on Friday and 4-2 on Saturday - to open the new campaign: check.
Colorado is a tough out, especially on home ice - going 20-7-2-1 against non-Stockton teams at the Budweiser Events Center since joining the AHL. However, the Heat seem to have co-signed the deed to the barn.
After the weekend sweep of the Eagles, Stockton is now 5-1 in Loveland.
Not too shabby.
It's tough to find any faults in the team's play over the weekend. Matthew Phillips scored in each game, the first tally of both. Buddy Robinson scored in each game, the game-winning tally in both. Byron Froese scored in each game. Zac Rinaldo notched three assists over the two-game set. Artyom Zagidulin stopped 60 of 64 shots faced over the weekend, holding the Eagles off the board through two periods in each contest.
The penalty-kill was strong, going 9-for-10 with a shorthanded goal, and the powerplay contributed with a goal on Saturday.
Even with some late adversity hitting on Saturday, Colorado climbing to within a goal with 1:02 remaining, the Heat responded with an empty-netter to deliver the knockout blow.
All in all, a good start.
The Heat excelled in some areas that they struggled with at times last season: they clamped down on the Eagles for the majority of the weekend, limiting the Colorado to just four goals over 120 minutes of hockey. Stockton also limited Colorado to 1-for-11 on the man-advantage. Goaltending was a strong spot - a .938 save percentage while on the road against a physical team is far from something to scoff at.
In terms of holdover strengths from last campaign, depth scoring was on full display with 12 players registering at least one point. Phillips picked up where he left off a year ago as a reliable scoring presence. Success on the road, as the standings would back up, has gotten off on the right foot.
It's just the first leg of a marathon - two games of a 68-game regular season in the books - but so far the Heat are on fire.
- The weekend set gives the Heat their first 2-0 start since 2016-17. It was the first time ever that Stockton, which first played in the 2015-16 season, won its first two road games of a campaign.
- Ryan Lomberg tied Morgan Klimchuk as the longest-tenured Heat player, reaching the 200-game milestone in Saturday's tilt. He'll top the list when he skates in the Heat's home-opener on October 12.
- Justin Kirkland skated in his 200th AHL game on Saturday: two with Stockton and his first 198 with the Milwaukee Admirals.
- Froese was named captain prior to the game on Friday. He is the fourth captain in Heat history.
- Eleven players made their respective Stockton Heat debuts with seven finding the score sheet and Zagidulin earning both starts over the weekend.
THEY SAID IT:
"The guys did a good job of sticking with it. Five-on-five we were very solid. We didn't give (Colorado) a lot of space. (The Eagles) did press, but that's what you're going to run into in a situation like this. Our composure overall was good." - Coach Cail MacLean after Saturday's win
"(Zagidulin) is very calm. He's a guy who sees pucks well. He's ahead of the game. All I can really say is just calm. His demeanor spreads to the rest of the team. He was instrumental in us getting four points this weekend, so we appreciate that. We want to make sure we play the right way in front of him and not take (his play) for granted." - MacLean on the play of Zagidulin
"Coming into the second game, we were able to get out to a good start. We weren't as rusty as we looked in the first game. We were able to come together tonight and get some good habits going." - Brandon Davidson on the win Saturday.
"I was just trying to get it through. At that point we were just trying to put everything on net. We got a fortuitous bounce off of Buddy's (stick), that's the way it goes sometimes. We're just glad it went in our favor tonight." - Davidson on Robinson's game-winning goal Saturday
"It's always great getting off to a winning start. (Colorado) came out with a lot of pace, we knew that. It's a tough building to play in. We just had to weather the storm, let everyone settle in. We just did what we do - skate fast in the defensive zone, go to the net and get a few goals." - Robinson on the opening-night win