Austin Czarnik emerged from the locker-room Monday as the clock ticked down to game time.
He was missing his sweater, some pads, and his helmet was placed in his stall.
Skates, socks, pants, and … Starbucks?
Iced coffee, black.
The forward can be forgiven for the needed extra boost, the Heat having just wrapped warm-ups as they stared down their fourth game in six days, and it was a game that - for the third time in less than a week - saw the Heat go to overtime and come out with two points to complete the OT trifecta.
Six points in four games - three divisional wins, over San Jose, Tucson and San Diego - have the Heat touting the highest point percentage in the Pacific.
"What's in our mind is getting two points," said Heat head coach Cail MacLean after Stockton closed the gap on Tucson Saturday, then gained some distance from fifth-place San Diego Monday. "We're approaching it like a playoff scenario where we've got a short turnaround, and each time we come into the rink, even if there's a day off in between, we come back and find a way to get points."
Whatever it takes, this group has risen to any challenge that has presented itself. A packed schedule? See above. A hamstrung roster? With blueliners Brandon Davidson and Alexander Yelesin with the big club and recent forward call-ups Buddy Robinson and Glenn Gawdin gone, that obstacle was overcome by secondary scoring and stellar special teams. Oh, and there was the return of Matthew Phillips, who re-entered the fold for the first time since Dec. 28 when he suffered a lower body injury. Late deficits? The Heat erased a two-goal gap in the third period in Wednesday's win over San Jose. Lost leads? Two-goal, third-period cushions evaporated on Saturday against Tucson and Monday versus San Diego, with Stockton emerging with four points in those games.
Every time the team takes the ice, Stockton is ready to battle to the final horn and able to withstand rough waters - a trait that helped guide Stockton to three one-goal wins in the past week.
Up next, the Heat hit the road for a rematch with San Diego Wednesday then head to the desert for a pair at Tucson, the Roadrunners sitting in first in the Pacific in point total but Stockton with a couple of games in hand.
The cardiac kids are rolling in with some well-earned confidence, and look to continue riding that caffeine-fueled momentum through the road trip.
- Alan Quine is the third Heat player all-time to register a 10-game point streak (5g,9a), joining Mark Jankowski and Andrew Mangiapane .
- The Heat are now 9-0-0-0 against the San Jose Barracuda, who they most recently defeated in overtime on Wednesday.
- Stockton claimed its first win in the season series against Tucson Saturday, though the Heat have recorded at least a point in three of five meetings.
- Adam Ruzicka ran up a five-game point streak prior to being held scoreless in Monday's game, totaling two goals and four assists in that span.
- Stockton shined on special teams in the wins Saturday and Monday, killing all 10 opponent powerplays while scoring on three of seven trips to the man-advantage and potting a shorthanded goal.
- Artyom Zagidulin earned a pair of wins with 60 saves on 65 shots faced in Stockton's last two games, including a win in his first shootout.
- Czarnik has recorded at least a point in six of Stockton's last seven games (1g,6a).
THEY SAID IT:
"The group was up for the game and we knew it was going to be a tough matchup. We knew, despite coming out of the first period with the lead, it wasn't going to be easy. I thought (the players) did a good job of continuing to play the right way and dealt with adversity in the end. We're disappointed we gave up a point (in the standings) but overall the group is happy with our compete level and getting it done." - MacLean on Stockton's win over first-place Tucson Saturday
"(Stockton's penalty kill) gets a lot of momentum for us, for sure. You know you can be confident even if you're down a man, we've got (Artyom Zagidulin and Jon Gillies) in net and everybody's selling out and buying in. It's a big momentum swing." - Rob Hamilton on the impact of the penalty kill's success
"Every team we play, every game we play is huge. Especially coming down the stretch, it's going to get tighter and tighter. It already has. We just have to come into every game thinking we need two points and just go from there." - Corey Schueneman on the team's mindset as the playoff race heats up
"I was really excited. It's been a bit of long stretch waiting to get back in. I felt really good energy-wise, I felt in game shape right away. (I was) a little bit rusty for a bit, but that's to be expected. I'm really, really happy with it." - Phillips on his return to the lineup Saturday
"It's hard, no matter what the reason is why you're out of the lineup, you want to be out there helping your team. When the team's not getting wins it's hard to just watch from the stands. I'm really happy to be back and help contribute." - Phillips on having to watch Stockton battle through adversity during his absence