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Dreamlike Start for Heat as Stockton Pummels Rockford 7-0 in Opener

Flames' newly-relocated AHL affiliate gets off on the right foot in a barrage that sees twelve different players record points.

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

As the opening lines to Queen’s "Bohemian Rhapsody" played over the Stockton Arena’s PA system with one minute and change left to play in the third period Saturday night, you continued to wonder.

The Stockton Heat marked their inaugural season opener with an exclamation point, coasting to a 7-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs.

Four consecutive goals in the opening twenty minutes would make most question, "Is this just fantasy?"

"We have a lot of guys who are NHL-caliber players," said alternate captain Turner Elson. "It’s one of the best AHL teams I’ve ever seen. It’s pretty exciting to have and I think we’ll make a hard push this year."

Elson, along with right winger Emile Poirier, assisted centre Derek Grant twice, the first being Stockton’s opening goal which came 4:22 into the game.

Blue-liner Jakub Nakladal was also at the forefront of the Heat’s offensive blitzkrieg on multiple occasions and earned first star honors by scoring the Heat’s fifth of the night and assisting on two of the first period tallies, both of which came on power play opportunities.

"He surprised us a little bit with his puck-handling ability and the way he was moving things around up top," head coach Ryan Huska said. "There’s often one guy up top who makes the difference when a power play is good. He was that for us tonight. He also wasn’t afraid to use his shot which is very important."

Stockton finished with 31 shots. Its first period effort of 15 was four less than Rockford’s entire production for the evening. Centre Markus Granlund had four of the shots and finished with a goal and a pair of assists.

Many eyes were on 18-year-old defenceman Oliver Kylington, who will be one of the more scrutinized players on this season’s Heat roster. The Flames turned some heads when they assigned the teenage Swede to the AHL instead of the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, who selected him in this summer’s CHL import draft.

Although he may still end up in juniors, Kylington wasted no time producing offensively in his first AHL game, scoring the Heat’s fourth goal in the closing minutes of the first period and assisting on a strike by Freddie Hamilton in the third period.

"I thought he handled himself very well tonight," Huska said. "He was very composed with the puck and he did a lot of good things in his first game."

Goaltender Jon Gillies, at times, had a quiet night. The 2015 NCAA Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player needed to make 19 saves, including just three in the second period.

"He made saves tonight and made them look easy," Huska said. "He’s going to be a tough goalie to face for opponents because his 6’5" frame makes it difficult to see around him."

Stockton will take the ice next on Thursday night when their natural rival, the San Jose Barracuda (affiliate of the Sharks), comes to town.