While the Heat took to the road this week to Ontario, California and Tucson, Arizona, the story quickly shifted to one of excitement and opportunity, with David Rittich recalled by the Calgary Flames, given his first NHL start on Saturday and earned his first NHL win (where he's now won his last five starts in the NHL and AHL combined.
The dressing room was certainly abuzz, but certainly a point of pride with the Heat coaching staff including head coach Ryan Huska and coaltending coach Colin Zulianello.
"We're really excited for him and I knew he'd be lights out tonight, that's just the way he is," Huska said. "He's been given these opportunities and loves to prove people wrong, so he's going to go up and he's going to give the Flames a chance to win."
"Our whole group was pulling for him."
Coaches and players alike flocked to the computer screens after their win on Saturday night in Tucson to take in the third period against the Avalanche and were very excited to see "Ritter" pick up his first win.
And when Jon Gillies got the call up last week, and now Rittich this week, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone on the Heat with a bigger smile or cheering louder than Zulianello. The goaltenders, Zulianello included, are like a team within a team, and he knows he's fortunate that he's got to work with two quality goaltenders who are poised to make an impact at the next level.
"All these guys want to be at the next level, that's ultimately why we're here," Zulianello said. "Development is such an important key to focus on and while I know it's cliché to tell them to focus on the process, it's really true. Jon and David have to trust the process, because they can't control when their next opportunity will come."
"They can only control their work ethic and attitude, and both Jon and David have done an excellent job of that this season."
And the goaltending depth that the Flames have right now is some of the greatest assets the club has. With Mike Smith atop the depth chart, and after you factor in two key prospects like David Rittich and Jon Gillies, you're still missing two quality goaltenders in Eddie Lack, just sent down to Stockton along with Mason McDonald and Tyler Parsons, who are both working hard with the club's ECHL affiliate, the Kansas City Mavericks.
Zulianello's job is to make sure these guys are ready to go on any given night, while also preparing them for when they put on a new jersey when they move up.
That's now the goal for Lack, who's been sent to Stockton to get his game kickstarted after appearing in just four games for the Flames, and actually, playing in just his 22nd game this calendar year on Saturday when he picked up the start for the Heat.
"The way Mike Smith has been playing up top, it's hard to take him out," Huska said. "By having Eddie come down and play some games it will be good for him. It'll get him back into the rhythm, make him feel a bit better about himself, and hopefully, put him in a position to help our team win and earn another recall to the Flames."
Lack was stellar in his Stockton Heat debut on Saturday, surrendering just two goals, one off a screened shot while on the penalty kill by the AHL's tied-fifth leading scorer Nick Merkley and another that was knocked in midair by the AHL's second leading scorer in Tucson's Dylan Strome.
Lack made 23 saves and helped the Heat snap their longest skid of the season at just two games. With six powerplays surrendered to the AHL's second best powerplay unit entering the game, the Tucson powerplay unit had chances and Lack was calm, cool and collected in between the pipes, impressing his teammates.
"Obviously when you have an NHL goalie behind you it makes you feel way more comfortable making plays and decisions in your defensive zone," Heat centerman Marek Hrivik said. "He was big for us and he held us in the game."
Maybe, Lack's first start for Stockton could be best summed up by the Swedish contingent in the locker room, now four strong in Stockton.
"Han var overklig där bakom," Heat defenceman Rasmus Andersson said with a smile as he summed up Lack's contributions in just five words.
"He was unreal back there."
- The Heat began a six-game road swing playing three games this week, going 1-2-0 as they fell to Ontario on Wednesday, was a goal short in Tucson on Friday and got the better of the Roadrunners on Saturday.
- The Heat are still in the midst of a stretch of games that sees the Heat play a lot of hockey away from Stockton Arena. Eleven of their next 13 games will be on the road with Stockton playing at 11:30 a.m. MT this Thursday against Bakersfield and again on Friday at 8:00 p.m. MT.
- Marek Hrivik has been red hot for the Heat, recording his first three-point night of the season in Saturday's win with 2 goals and an assist. Hrivik has 10 points in his last eight games, earning points in six of those eight.
- Morgan Klimchuk is right there with Hrivik, recording a Heat season-long four game goal streak that was snapped on Friday night, and in total, has 6 points in his last six games.
- Emile Poirier has continued to put up the offence, with a goal and six assists in his last five games, including a big goal on Saturday that helped the Heat capture the win in Tucson.
- Stockton saw three players reach milestones in each game last week, including defenceman Colby Robak's 500th professional game on Wednesday, Ryan Lomberg's 100th AHL game on Friday and Brett Findlay's 100th AHL game on Saturday.
- The Heat have scored the first goal in all but three games this season, but on Saturday, earned their first win, when the opponent scores the first goal of the game (1-1-0-1). The Heat have earned points in both games they've been outshot on the road this season.
"I think just getting on the road in general is great. We haven't been on the road a whole lot this year. To be around the guys with all the travel on the bus and in the airport, the team just becomes get closer after trips like this, especially when you throw Thanksgiving in there as well." - Morgan Klimchuk on the team bonding during the holiday road trip
"You get the same effort and same work from Klimchuk every night. I think he is feeling good about his game right now. Whatever the situation maybe he takes a lot of pride in it where it is defending or if it is in the offensive zone he is around the puck a lot right now and it is helping his line play the right way." - Coach Huska on Morgan Klimchuk's recent form
"It is always fun to play. I haven't played that much this year and I am trying to get my legs going here, but it was fun tonight." - Eddie Lack on his performance after Saturday's win
"I thought [Eddie Lack] was really good. The first one that there was a lot of traffic in front of him. He made some big saves and he provided that calming influence for our guys on the backend. Whenever there was a breakdown he was there to make the save." - Huska on Lack's 23-save winning effort on Saturday
"Scoring a goal on your powerplay is a big thing, but I think the Poirier goal was the most important one for us tonight. When we got that goal, it felt like it gave us a little pep in our step from that point on." - Coach Huska on Poirier's huge goal turning momentum in their favor on Saturday night