The Calgary Flames eliminated from the playoffs. Their offseason begins now, but the majority of the Flames’ prospects—specifically some of their most NHL ready ones—are in the battle of their lives to reach the fourth round of the AHL’s Calder Cup playoffs. Here is everything you need to know about the Stockton Heat’s playoff run as they search for their first Calder Cup win since 2001.
How did the Stockton Heat get to the playoffs?
The Heat had an incredibly impressive regular season, finishing the season as the top team in the AHL’s Pacific Division. The team lost just 16 times in regulation and finished the year second in the entire league in points percentage. Not only were they good on offence, finishing ninth in goals-for league-wide, they absolutely locked it down defensively, allowing the fewest number of goals in the AHL. Not bad production under new head coach Mitch Love, who won the AHL’s coach of the year award in his debut coaching season.
This was a heck of a season for the Heat. They broke a record for most standings points by a team from the Pacific Division with 97 and were head and shoulders ahead of most other teams in the league. This gave them a bye through the first round of the playoffs. They then went on to sweep the Bakersfield Condors in three games in round two and now face the Colorado Eagles who they lead 2–1 in their best of five series.
Heat players to watch for
The Heat are an immensely deep team this year. They boast not only some very impressive prospects, but also a ton of depth forwards who have been around the league and know how to win. Here are the players who have been particularly impressive this season:
There are not enough words to describe how good Dustin Wolf has been this year. He was the best goalie in the AHL this year, an all-star, a first-team all-rookie winner, and all-around star for the Heat. He has also been incredibly impressive through the playoffs with two shutouts in six games.
This is his rookie season and nobody expected the 2019 seventh-round pick to be adapting to the AHL this well this quickly. If the Heat are to win the Calder Cup, he will be a big big reason as to why.
Now 24 years old, Matthew Phillips has been around the organization for four seasons now, growing his role each and every year. This year, he finished ninth in league scoring, and led the Heat with 68 points in 65 games. Being above a point-per-game in the second best league in North America if not the world is an incredible accomplishment for the diminutive forward.
Phillips probably deserved a look at the NHL level this season, but has been the Heat’s best skater this year by some distance. He is a player to keep an eye on through the playoffs for sure.
The 2019 first-round pick came into this season with a lot to prove. He did not finish his final season in the QMJHL with the type of gusto that many high prospects do, but his elite two-way game and point production found a new high this season in the AHL, setting a Heat rookie scoring record. Pelletier put up a whopping 62 points in 66 games—good for second among all under-21-year-old skaters in the league. He was also named to the AHL’s All-Rookie team this year, which surprised absolutely nobody.
Pelletier may end up being an NHLer next year based on how good he was this season, but he will need to keep his production and drive up through this playoffs. He has six points in six playoff games so far, but will need to continue to be one of the Heat’s top forwards if they are to reach the next round.
Connor Mackey has flown under the radar a little this season after spending parts of last year with the Flames. However, he has taken a massive step forward in his development in the AHL and has been the team’s most steady blueliner this season. This is incredibly high praise because he was substantially better than Juuso Valimaki for the entire year despite a massive difference in pedigree. This is not a knock on Valimaki, but rather a testament to the incredible play of Mackey this year.
Mackey finished the year with 36 points in 56 games with the Heat and one assist in three games with the Flames. He is probably ready for a longer look at the NHL level next year, but his production has been just phenomenal this year and is worth watching through the rest of these playoffs.
Looking at the Heat’s path to victory
The Heat first and foremost need to get through the Colorado Eagles in order to advance to the next round. While they do hold a 2–1 edge in the series, the Eagles are a formidable opponent. They have the fifth (Kiefer Sherwood), seventh (Dylan Sikura), and eleventh (Jordan Gross) top point producers in the AHL this season on their roster and show no signs of giving up. Both of the next two games are in Loveland Colorado so the Heat will need to be able to win in enemy territory.
If Stockton wins, they will face off against the Chicago Wolves in the Western Conference Finals. The Wolves were the top team in the AHL this season, also losing just 16 times in regulation. They are led by Andrew Poturalski, who was the top scorer in the AHL this season, and by former Flame Josh Leivo who leads the Calder Cup Playoffs with 13 points in seven games. They will be a tough out.
If the Heat can get through the Wolves, they will face either the Laval Rocket or the winner of the Charlotte Checkers versus the Springfield Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds are ahead 2–0 over Charlotte but it’s not over until it’s over. Laval won their last series 3–0 over the Rochester Americans and have been a tough team to beat in the East.
At the end of the day, whoever the Heat face from here on out will be a tough out, but they are an incredibly deep team who have scoring depth up and down the lineup. Expect them to take on whoever they face and really make a series out of it.
Looking forward to the Heat’s future
This will be the last season of the Stockton Heat. It was announced earlier in the week that the Heat will be relocated to Calgary to play closer to their parent club. While this is probably better for the team from an operational and financial angle, you have to feel for the thousands of loyal Heat fans in Stockton and Northern California who lose a team that has been near and dear to their hearts since 2015. In a market without another high-level hockey team, this is a monumental loss for the community.
For Flames fans in Calgary this is an opportunity to get to know the prospects that are coming up in the system and to start getting excited about them. The Flames, just like any other team, have gotten and continue to get most of their roster from their farm team, and nearly every Flames’ draft pick in the last seven years spent time in Stockton. This is a chance to really get excited about the young talent on an excellent team before they make the jump to the pro-ranks.
Hopefully the Heat are able to win the Calder Cup this year and bring CSEC their first hockey trophy in 21 years, but even if they cannot, the team looks to be very well-built and well-coached going into next season and beyond. The Flames have a lot of young prospects who will be joining the team next season including Jeremie Poirier, Yan Kuznetsov, Rory Kerins, and more. Expect them to keep pushing into next season as one of the top sides in the AHL.
There’s plenty to be excited about for the 2022–23 Calgary farm team.