The season came to an end for the Stockton Heat on Sunday, a campaign cut short by a cold winter stretch despite a resurgent spring and furious push to get back into playoff contention.
Ultimately the goal of an AHL team is to show concrete proof of development, progress and improvement throughout a season, even more so than wins and losses might indicate.
It's hard to argue that, in that respect, this year wasn't a success for Stockton.
In addition to producing a handful of contributors on the Flames roster thanks to the impressive Stockton Pipeline, the Heat had improved markedly throughout the year. Plagued by inconsistent play in their own zone for the early portions of the season, the Heat limited opponents to three or fewer goals in all but four contests since March 1.
Limiting opposing powerplays proved a challenge early, but the PK grew stingy down the stretch keeping opponents in check at 4-for-42 over the last nine games. Stockton also finished the season as the most dangerous team in the AHL when down a man, notching a league-leading 17 shorthanded goals.
The goaltending found its footing late as well, with Jon Gillies finishing his run with the Heat before a call-up by going 9-5-0-1 in his final 15 starts and Tyler Parsons registering an astronomical 89 saves in his final two appearances of the year, including a team-record 51 stops on Friday at Ontario.
The offence never departed, Stockton finishing fourth in the AHL in scoring with 3.46 goals per game. Stockton finished with two 50-point scorers for the year, with Alan Quine (19g,33a) and Tyler Graovac (24g,26a) reaching the half-century mark.
"I think that we have played our best hockey of the season (down the stretch), said Heat head coach Cail MacLean following Sunday's contest. "Our young players have grown throughout the season - that's a real positive for us because it's something we work really hard at. The bottom line is we've been playing better hockey lately. We pushed to make the playoffs, but unfortunately we had ourselves in a hole that made it difficult to do that. Winning games in the hardest part of the year, those March games where everyone is vying for playoff points, that's a feather in the cap and it's something we should be proud of."
The 2018/19 season had its ups and downs, hot stretches, cold streaks, great games, forgettable nights and everything in between.
It's the fight in this club that will stand the test of time.
- Stockton finished the season with a record of 31-31-4-2.
- The Heat wrapped up their second-straight season of above-.500 play in road games, going 16-15-2-1 away from Stockton Arena.
- Mason Morelli finished the season with a goal in each of the final three games.
- Parsons turned away 89 of 94 shots faced over the team's final two games, a 4-2 win at Ontario Friday and a 3-2 defeat against Bakersfield at home on Sunday.
"(Tyler) has been really strong (down the stretch). He's been dialed in, really focused. He had one rough game last week against Ontario, but it was just a rough team effort all the way around. Tyler Parsons has been focused, he's been seeing the puck really well. I think he's made great strides after having a long run of backing up Jon Gillies. I'm proud of his efforts. I'm proud of Colin Zulianello's efforts in working with him. I'm proud of the way he's stuck with it and worked really hard in practice." - MacLean on Parsons' play down the stretch
"The guys have really helped me. They've guided me and made me more comfortable in playing and the pace of the game and the little things that you don't think about (until you're here). I've been getting more comfortable, and having the confidence with the puck is huge. I think that's the biggest thing for me." - Morelli on finishing the year with a three-game goal-scoring streak
"It means a lot. You always strive for personal goals before the season. You obviously want the team to win, but to reach 50 was something I wanted to do. It's good tonight. It's good to get the win. I'm very happy for the boys in there, and we all deserve it." - Graovac on reaching 50 points for the season on Friday
"I don't really think about (how I'm feeling), I just get some shots early, get to feeling the puck. Just try to stay focused during the whole game and control what I can control, and just be patient out there. I think I did pretty good tonight doing that, just sticking to my game plan." - Parsons on his 51-save outing against Ontario on Friday