CALGARY, AB -- As author Charles Caleb Colton put it, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
For NHL teams, the goal for their American Hockey League affiliate is to replicate the systems implemented by the big club. By mimicking what their parent team does, AHL teams are enabling prospects to develop most effectively.
When a player gets the call from their NHL team, they are far more prepared to make that transition than they would be if their AHL squad played an entirely different structure.
This year, the Stockton Heat mirrored the Calgary Flames in almost all regards.
There were periods of brilliance, like their 10-game home winning streak.
Plenty of players took a big step this season, like Kenny Agostino who wrapped up his second professional season by scoring a team-leading 57 points.
Rookies were able to jump in and provide meaningful contributions, like 18-year-old defenceman Oliver Kylington, rugged forward Austin Carroll and Flames 2013 first round pick Morgan Klimchuk.
14 skaters were summoned by the Flames, playing at least one game in the NHL in the 2015-16 campaign.
They gave up more goals than they would have liked, being outscored 224-194 in 68 games.
Their penalty kill struggled, ranked 26th overall in the league with a 80.2 percent efficiency rate. They allowed 52 goals in 263 short-handed chances.
Their road record was a less-than-flattering 10-21-3.
"We had our stretches of good times, we had our stretches of challenges this year," head coach Ryan Huska summarized. "I guess the frustrating point at this time of year is we’re not where we’d like to be. We’d like to be preparing for a playoff run (this) weekend.
"But I think when you go back and look at our season we had a lot of players who had the opportunity to play in Calgary. It’s something that we’re proud of, that we’ve been able to put the guys in the position where they were counted on and used a lot up top. That’s something that we’re happy with."
Their netminding woes also resembled that of the Flames.
After Jon Gillies went down with a lower body injury that would ultimately sideline him for the majority of the season, the Heat went through a gamut of goaltenders. Eight goalies would ultimately don Stockton silks in 2015-16, due to injuries and recalls to Calgary.
Next year, it will likely be Gillies handling the bulk of the workload in Stockton. The Flames' 2012 third round pick went 2-3-1 with a 2.31 GAA and a .920 save percentage before undergoing surgery for a hip ailment.
"Fully anticipating he’ll be back for development camp," Huska noted. "From what we understand he’s doing great. He’s in Calgary working with the guys there. He’s putting in some longer days. It’s not an easy rehab to come back from. This is the best thing for him.
"Unfortunately we lost a great goaltender in the early portion of the season but it was important for us to get it done when we did so he’d be ready for development camp, he’s ready for training camp and he gives himself an opportunity to get himself going right from the beginning of the year next year."
Huska, in his second season with the organization after spending 12 years with the Kelowna Rockets in the Western Hockey League, also had to work through the adjustment to a new division, a new season structure and a new city.
The Flames moved their affiliate from Glens Falls, NY to Stockton last summer, joining the AHL's new Pacific Division. Instead of playing 76 regular season games, the Heat and their California rivals played 68 under the new format.
Suddenly, they had additional practice days to work with and a new pace for traveling for road games.
"A lot of it was very positive," Huska said of the move to North California. "A lot of it was a learning experience for us as well. The arena here was great for us. I thought our home record was definitely one of the strengths of our hockey club this year. We made this a tough building to play in. In regards to our training facility and what we had here in Stockton we’re very happy with it.
"The one thing we learned about quickly was the travel in California … dealing with the Los Angeles traffic. That was something we had to adjust with a little bit when we’d make our road trips to San Diego and Ontario. Those were things we learned over the course of the season. You have to expect the unexpected when it comes to LA and planning your trips."
Ultimately, the Heat wouldn't qualify for the AHL postseason but their push for a playoff berth lasted until their third-last game of the season. That run showcased not only the strides the team took as individuals and as a team but also was glimpse into the future for the Heat.
Next year, Huska's crew is set on making some noise in the postseason.
"Overall, it wasn't the result we wanted. We obviously all wanted to be in the playoffs but there's a lot of positives to take out of this year," Agostino stated. "I think a lot of guys grew as players and I think there's a lot to look forward to in Stockton."