The Heat Beat #3 — Mar. 25, 2021

The Heat haven't Beat anybody in nearly two weeks. Perhaps I should start workshopping a different name for this newsletter

Welcome back to The Heat Beat newsletter.

The past two weeks have been extremely trying for the Calgary Flames organization. The NHL squad has lost four of its last five games while being, for the most part, thoroughly outplayed.

Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, Sean Monahan, Andrew Mangiapane, Rasmus Andersson, Mikael Backlund, and Dillon Dube have combined to score zero goals over the last three games. The team, as a whole, has scored just twice in that span. Things are going poorly.

Still, losing four out of five games is still better than dropping five decisions in a row. The Stockton Heat entered their game against the Manitoba Moose on Mar. 13 having won eight-straight games and enjoying a comfortable position atop the American Hockey League’s Canadian Division.

Manitoba took that game by a 4-2 score. Since then, the Heat have struggled to start games on time, routinely falling into massive holes in the first and second periods and failing to complete impressive comeback efforts. The most recent edition of The Heat Beat newsletter was published on Mar. 11, the same day the Heat dispatched Manitoba 2-1; Stockton subsequently endured a long stretch of misery, amassing a 0-4-1 record and falling into the second-place position in the division.

Connor Zary is gone. Martin Pospisil will be out for a while. Both of these players represented a huge part of Stockton’s early-season success. Since Zary’s return to the Kamloops Blazers, his former centre, Adam Ruzicka, has recorded just one point (an assist) in six games.

Ruzicka has long been criticized for his inconsistency. This season has put his game-to-game variability on full display. The 21-year-old centre started the year with back-to-back point-less performances before exploding for four consecutive games of three points, each. That stretch catapulted Ruzicka into rarified air on the AHL’s scoring leaderboard with 12 points (seven goals, five assists) in just six games.

Since then, Ruzicka has fallen off the map a bit. In the nine games since the end of his four-game point streak, Ruzicka has just two assists. In those same nine contests, Matthew Phillips (Ruzicka’s most consistent winger) has five goals and a helper. It’s not as though Phillips is exclusively cashing in on the power play, either—just one of those goals came on the man-advantage. Phillips is still generating at even-strength despite the struggles of his centre.

Prior to Ruzicka’s promotion this season, Phillips had spent much of the last two campaigns playing on a line with Glenn Gawdin. Those two were reunited in Stockton’s most recent game, with Ruzicka remaining as the third part of the Heat’s top line. All three players were held off the board in the game.

Zary was genuinely one of Stockton’s best playmakers in his short time with the team. He put together a nice little five-game point-scoring streak between Feb. 24 and Mar. 6 and led all Heat skaters with six shots (and three points) against the Belleville Senators on Mar. 3. The 19-year-old showed he was capable of generating offense while playing on any line with any players.

Pospisil similarly exceeded expectations with the Heat before his knee injury. He bounced around the lineup a bit, playing most frequently as the team’s third-line centre but also shifting to the wing and even down to the fourth line at times. Nevertheless, he remained on Stockton’s power-play team and emerged as a consistent producer throughout the first 13 games of the season, never going more than two games without registering a point.

With Emilio Pettersen battling a minor injury on Mar. 21, Heat coach Cail MacLean decided to elevate Pospisil to fill the first-line left wing slot beside Ruzicka and Phillips. It was a well-earned promotion for a player who ranked among the team leaders with 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 13 games. Pospisil was reunited with Ruzicka, his teammate on Team Slovakia at the 2019 World Juniors.

Stockton had battled hard through its first two games of its four-game series on home ice against the Laval Rocket. The Heat had lost 4-3 in overtime on Mar. 18 and fell in regulation time by the same score on Mar. 20. Three days later, on Mar. 23, the Rocket finished the series sweep with a 4-2 win.

The third game of the set was the toughest one for the home side. For one, they lost by the largest margin of the series: 4-1 (yes, Laval scored four goals in all four games). But Stockton’s biggest loss on Mar. 23—and, arguably, of the series—was Pospisil, who was targeted with a knee-on-knee hit just 3:06 into the game and had to be helped off the ice.

Pospisil suffered a torn MCL and MPFL in his left knee and is expected to be out for 4-6 weeks. It’s the second major injury for him in the last two seasons—he missed three months with a concussion in 2019-20 after being knocked out in a fight with the late Colby Cave.

To summarize:

  • Ruzicka has stopped scoring;

  • Zary has returned to the WHL;

  • Pospisil will be out for a decent chunk of time;

  • Stockton has lost five in a row.

Has there been any good news for the Heat lately? Well, yes…


The Good News Corner: Luke Philp is pretty good!

Also inside: Tyler Parsons is close to returning; plus, the captain is back!

Luke Philp is 25 years old. He’s 5’10”. He can skate, but speed is not his hallmark. All of these are reasons to exercise caution when considering Philp’s possible future upside.

Still, Philp is a versatile right-handed forward who can play multiple positions and in all sorts of in-game situations. He’s been a regular contributor on Stockton’s power play and penalty-killing units. Since the beginning of the 2019-20 season, he leads all Heat skaters with 24 goals in 67 games—and, of note, it took him until his 11th contest to score his first AHL goal (and point).

Philp, much like Pospisil, has been a consistent contributor all season long for the Heat. In the six games since the last issue of this newsletter, Philp has three goals and seven points. Philp has five power play points (two goals, three assists) this season, but he actually ranks tied with Ruzicka for second on the team with eight points at even strength.

If the Flames continue to fishtail their way out of the playoff race, they would be smart to give guys from Stockton opportunities to prove their worth at the NHL level. Philp is at the age and level of production where he should probably be at the front of that line. He’ll be an RFA this summer and is likely to be tendered a qualifying offer, but it would be cool to get a sense of what he can do in the big league—even if it’s in a smaller sample size of games.

In other good news: Tyler Parsons should be back soon! The 23-year-old goaltender has been plagued by injuries for almost his entire professional career but, according to Flames director of goaltending Jordan Sigalet, he’s healthy now and is in the early stages of his quarantine process.

Parsons spent 2019-20 with the ECHL’s Kansas City Mavericks. He played 25 games and went 11-9-2 with a .911 save percentage. He got into 27 games with the Heat over the two previous seasons, posting a 10-13-1 record and an .890 save percentage.

Finally: Byron Froese is back with the Heat. The veteran centre made his return to Stockton’s lineup in time for the four-game set against Laval, the team he used to captain. Froese now wears the “C” for the Heat, a position he’s held since the beginning of the 2019-20 season (Alex Petrovic took over the mantle while Froese was with the Flames).

With Zary and Pospisil unavailable, Froese offers the Heat a much-needed option down the middle to play behind Ruzicka and Gawdin. He scored twice in the Laval series.


This person does not exist: Emilio Pettersen

EA Sports could not be reached for comment

Computer algorithms are scary. They can do all sorts of unimaginable things, such as “mining for Bitcoin” (I still have no idea what this means) and making “Cinnamon Toast Crunch” trend on Twitter for days on end.

Recently, some dude named Phil Wang created a website, thispersondoesnotexist.com, that uses an algorithm to “build” hyperrealistic (but fake) human portraits entirely out of code and pixels. These false faces have begun to infiltrate all sorts of online areas.

It’s all very creepy and strange. But, in one recent case, the opposite has occurred. I was recently using my PlayStation 4 when I noticed that, troublingly, the computer seemed to have erased somebody from existence.

Emilio Pettersen is, allegedly, a 20-year-old hockey player from Norway who plays for the Stockton Heat. He’s emerged as one of the top offensive players for the Heat this season, posting 10 points in 14 games.

This is all news to Electronic Arts, publisher of the long-running EA NHL series of video games. Despite having amassed a fortnight’s worth of games at the professional level, Pettersen has been excluded from NHL 21 in every single roster update since the game’s release last October.

“Well, of course, Mike,” you say. “Pettersen spent the last two seasons in college. EA doesn’t have the rights to any NCAA players!” You would be right. Pettersen fell outside of Electronic Arts’ jurisdiction from when the game entered stores last year to Feb. 21, when he made his AHL debut.

However—EA has updated NHL 21 twice since then, on Mar. 3 and Mar. 17. Former NCAA stars Connor Mackey and Colton Poolman both joined the video game Heat in the first update. Even Mark Simpson, who is with the Heat on an AHL-only deal and joined the club from the University of New Brunswick, has an NHL 21 counterpart.

Despite excelling in Stockton’s top-six, Pettersen was forgotten on Mar. 3 and still remains absent in the Mar. 17 update. Does this really matter? No. Is this the result of an EA-wide conspiracy against the Stockton Heat, the University of Denver, and (perhaps) the entire country of Norway? Almost certainly not, although who knows in 2021.

Most likely, EA considers maintaining the accuracy of its AHL rosters to be an undertaking of relatively low priority—which is probably fair. It’s NHL 21, not AHL 21. Still, I found it pretty funny to compare Stockton’s video game lineup from Mar. 17 with its real-world counterpart of a few days earlier:

NHL 21 Stockton Heat

Alex Gallant - Adam Ruzicka - Justin Kirkland
Luke Philp - Matthew Phillips - Eetu Tuulola
Martin Pospisil - Connor Zary - Mark Simpson
Colton Beck - Giorgio Estephan - Dmitry Zavgorodniy

Zac Leslie - Alex Petrovic
Rob Hamilton - Alexander Yelesin
Connor Mackey - CJ Lerby

Garret Sparks
Artyom Zagidulin

Stockton Heat lineup vs. Manitoba on Mar. 13, 2021

Emilio Pettersen - Adam Ruzicka - Matthew Phillips
Giorgio Estephan - Glenn Gawdin - Luke Philp
Justin Kirkland - Martin Pospisil - Dmitry Zavgorodniy
Rory Kerins - Mark Simpson - Eetu Tuulola

Connor Mackey - Alex Petrovic
CJ Lerby - Alexander Yelesin
Rob Hamilton - Zac Leslie

Artyom Zagidulin
Garret Sparks

See if you can spot all the differences! (Yes, for the record, Gawdin is in NHL 21, but the roster update still has him in the NHL).

Again, does any of this matter? Nah. Is it funny? Probably not. Did I need to fill space in this week’s newsletter? You bet.


The best Heat goal and save since the last issue

I had to resist the urge to just paste a link to Dustin Wolf’s WHL player page in this section

There weren’t too many candidates for this issue’s “best goal” award, but the obvious choice was Matthew Phillips’ late game-tying goal against Laval on Mar. 18. It came off a terrific combination effort by Pettersen and Phillips and sent the game to overtime.

As for the “best save”… few were more important than this stop by Garret Sparks to preserve a late 2-1 lead on Mar. 11.


Coming up…

The Heat are heading back out on the road! They’ll be playing a back-to-back set against the Belleville Senators in Ottawa on Friday and Saturday before making stops in Toronto and Laval next week.

Stockton will have played seven more games by April 8, when the next edition of this newsletter will be released. The team currently owns an 8-6-1 record and has lost five consecutive games, the last three coming in regulation.

All games will be broadcast on AHL TV and live-tweeted at @miketgould. Continue to follow that account for all the latest Stockton Heat updates.

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