HEAT KICK OFF KEY STRETCH WITH PAIR OF WINS
The Stockton Heat entered arguably their toughest stretch of games this season last week with a game against the Iowa Wild Friday night in Stockton before hitting the road to Bakersfield for a Saturday night tilt in the AHL’s version of the Battle of Alberta.
The pair of games kicked off a stretch of six games in nine days, as the Heat collected a 5-1 win over Iowa and thrilling 6-5 overtime win over Bakersfield.
Both games were extremely fast and physical – emphasis on physical, as evidenced by the 182 penalty minutes between the three teams involved in the two games combined.
“You always want to make sure you have a group that stands up for each other out there,” head coach Ryan Huska said. “We don’t want to take penalties, but we have to be a physical, aggressive team. I was proud of the way our guys handled the style of play.”
The dominant win Friday was led by two players that returned to the Heat lineup on that night – Kenny Agostino, fresh off his brief stint with the Flames, and Derek Grant, back from missing 14 games with a broken jaw.
Agostino showed no signs regression after being reassigned to the AHL, as his three-point night earned him the second star; however, the night belonged to the team’s top goal-scorer Grant.
Grant potted a pair of goals and picked up right where he left off prior to his injury.
“It felt good to be back,” Grant said following Friday’s game. “It can be frustrating sometimes when you’re not playing and obviously you always want to be out there with the guys. I’m just excited to be back.”
Huska shared Grant’s feeling on being back in the lineup, adding that Grant adds a dimension to the power play that has been missing since his departure.
“[Derek Grant] was excellent tonight,” coach Huska said. “When you look at our power play when he’s out there, he does a great job down low in front of the net. You can tell why we missed him during that lengthy period of time that he was out. He steps right back in tonight with two nice goals after missing that much time – it’s good to have him back.”
Grant continued his illustrious comeback Saturday in Bakersfield, as the centreman registered a three-point night and moved into a tie for third in the AHL in goals.
Hunter Shinkaruk earned first star honors with his two-goal night, including the overtime game winner – his first multi-goal game since joining the Heat.
“It was a good game – it was a crazy game,” Shinkaruk said after Saturday’s win. “To be able to contribute and help out feels good, but that was a great team game.”
It was a tough, character win for the Heat, as they had to finish the game with nine forwards and five defenceman after three players received game misconducts and Bryce Van Brabant exited the game with a lower-body injury.
However, Stockton scored three goals in the third to force overtime and despite the short bench, earned two points.
Stockton now has earned at least one point in four-straight games and have moved within .025 points percentage of a playoff spot.
Their 6-3-1 record in their last 10 games is good for third in the Pacific Division, but their biggest week of the season looms this week.
The Heat will play four games in the next six days – all of which will be on the road, beginning tonight in Winnipeg as the Heat face the Manitoba Moose for the second to last time this season.