Things are going well down in California.
Three-straight wins overall and eight-straight wins dating back to last season over the Edmonton Oilers' top affiliate and Heat rival, the Bakersfield Condors, has put the Heat toward the top of the Pacific Division and the Western Conference.
Certainly, players like Garnet Hathaway, Andrew Mangiapane and the Heat's fearsome duo in net have gotten a lot of attention, but quietly putting together a terrific start to his season has been defenceman Tyler Wotherspoon.
"Spooner" as he's affectionately known in the Heat dressing room, is on pace to eclipse last season's 18-point total, and could even be on track to surpass his best pro season, a 24-point year back in 2014-15 while playing with the Adirondack Flames.
"My style of game is to play simple but the start of the season I've felt like I've been focused on getting up in the play, getting more shots through and displaying more confidence in the offensive zone," Wotherspoon said. "We obviously have a lot of skill with our forward group, and that helps out a lot, but for me I just need to continue to play fast and good things will come."
Good things have come for the longtime defenceman, who took over as the team leader in points from the blueline during last week's win down in San Diego. He traded assists with his defensive partner, Rasmus Andersson, during Saturday's 5-2 win over Bakersfield, making sure that the Heat alternate captain still leads Heat blueliners in points with 10 (1-9-10).
"I think he's matured," Heat head coach Ryan Huska said. "He's grown up a lot over the last couple of years and there's always been confidence in his ability to play at both ends of the ice."
As observers, it's easy to take a look on the ice and find Wotherspoon on it for key defensive situations.
Penalty Kill? Get out there Tyler.
Two-men down? Put Spooner on.
Big defensive zone draw? Number five hops over the boards.
And that's why it's easy to think of Tyler as a defensive specialist, certainly one of the key reasons why he was named the Heat's Defenceman of the Year in 2016-17 by the Heat coaching staff and management.
But by falling into that trap of thinking that his game is only on the defensive side, you're forgetting about his abilities to contribute in all 200 feet of the ice surface.
"Through my junior career I always tried to play a two-way game," Wotherspoon said. "I obviously play a very defensive minded game first, but if I can bring the offensive part of my game, it makes my value to the team a little more, and that's what I try to bring to the table."
"When you play good defence, the offence comes easy."
His 10 points he's picked up in his first 15 games of the season puts him in the top-10 defensive point getters in the AHL this season while his plus-11 rating is tied for third among AHL defencemen and fifth among all AHL skaters this season.
Freshly married this offseason, Wotherspoon is no doubt one of the "old guys", but at just 24-years-old, Wotherspoon is very much still a young player, and the start to this season may be his best ever as a pro.
"Every year you want it to be your best and I'm working towards that."
His value to the Heat is hard to state, and while he's been a familiar name to Flames fans for the better portion of five seasons, with games in Abbotsford, Adirondack and Stockton, if Wotherspoon continues his torrid pace and solid defensive game, it may not be long until he will be doing the same things he's been doing for years, but with a "Flaming-C" on his chest instead of the "S".
- Two games and two wins for the Heat this past weekend, with 4-2 and 5-2 wins over the Condors. They were also the final home games for the Heat in November.
- In fact, Stockton has just two home dates remaining in 2017, on December 9 and on New Year's Eve. The next 13 of 15 games will be coming away from Stockton Arena starting with a midweek clash against the Ontario Reign (Los Angeles Kings affiliate). The Heat have posted a 3-1-0-1 road record in five road games to start the season.
- Garnet Hathaway becomes the first Heat player to reach the 10-goal plateau, continuing to rank him among the league leaders. Andrew Mangiapane is right behind him for second on the team with 8 goals this season (however Mangiapane's 21 points leads the Heat) while Morgan Klimchuk's 7 goals is third.
- Emile Poirier was spectacular this weekend, recording his first multi-point game since January of last season on Friday night with 3 assists and followed that up with two additional assists on Saturday. His 5-points are tied for the most the winger has ever posted in back-to-back games dating back to the end of the season in Adirondack in 2015, and all 5 assists for Poirier this weekend were primary assists.
- It's been a 50/50 split between David Rittich and Jon Gillies when it comes to the wins as both players have won 5 games each for the Heat and both were named second stars this weekend with Rittich stopping 33 of 35 on Friday and Gillies stopping 35 of 37 on Saturday. Rittich has won his last four starts matching his career best win streak, which also happens to be the Heat record established last season.
- Gillies became the third goaltender to see a penalty shot as he stopped Bakersfield captain Ryan Hamilton in the second period on Saturday. Rittich made a penalty shot save on Nov. 12 last year while earning his first shutout and first win of his AHL career against San Antonio while Kent Simpson made a penalty shot stop on Nov. 7, 2015 in a loss against the Ontario Reign. All three penalty shots came on home ice.
- Hunter Shinkaruk picked up a pair of goals, including his first game winning goal in the American Hockey League since April 2016 on Friday night. One of his goals came on the powerplay, as would Andrew Mangiapane's goal on Saturday night, giving the Heat powerplay goals in seven of their last eight, having converted on 22.9% of their chances.
"Obviously being an offense player any time you can chip and score goals to help your team win it is nice. It is nice to get that win and I was lucky enough to help out." - Hunter Shinkaruk on his ability to contribute in the win on Friday vs. Bakersfield
"It was huge. We play them quite a few times and it is a pretty big chunk of our schedule so every game we play against them it is a big two-points up for grabs, so we are really happy about this weekend." - Ryan Lomberg on the importance of sweeping Bakersfield
"San Jose and Bakersfield are the two teams that we play all the time it feels like and when you are able to take points from those teams it helps over the course of the season when you are fighting for a playoff spot because we see each other so many times. Those are the game we call four points games, and those games are important." - Coach Huska on the heightened value on beating Pacific Division rivals
"We are fortunate, I think we have the two best goalies in the American Hockey League, and they both give us a chance to win each night and that is a huge bonus for our group at home. When you go on the road there are times that you will be on your heels and we have the goaltenders to help us weather the storm." - Huska believes Gillies and Rittich are the top two goalies in the league
"We know we have a good group here, I guess our expectations for what our group is capable of are high and we feel that every night we think we have a legitimate chance of winning games. When we don't play up to that standard, even when you are winning hockey games, we know there are areas where we can be better." -Huska on his expectations for his club after being outshot by the Condors this weekend 72-54