Making their third and final trip to the Lone Star State this season, the Stockton Heat were upended by the Texas Stars 5-2 Saturday night after grinding out a 3-2 victory in San Antonio two nights prior.
Left winger Bryce Van Brabant collected his first multi-point game of the season against the Stars by pushing a rebounded puck in the crease past the Texas goaltender in the third period for his second goal of the season.
His notch came after he assisted on a catch-and-shoot goal by defenceman Pat Sieloff from the slot in the second period.
"That was maybe [Bryce Van Brabant’s] best game of the year," head coach Ryan Huska said. "He’s been consistently good for us all year, so I was happy to see him get rewarded tonight. He’s been one of our harder players each night and he really showed the strength and size that he has tonight. It was definitely nice to see him be rewarded for his efforts."
Notorious for outshooting their opponents, the Heat found themselves on the other end of the stick Saturday night as the Stars’ blitzkrieg accounted for 35 shots on goal, including 16 in the first period. Goaltender Joni Ortio made 31 saves in the loss.
"There were a lot of opportunities tonight where we didn’t get guys back in our zone to prevent those second chances," Huska said. "Joni gives us a chance to win every night and that’s what we ask of him. We need to do a better job of clearing out those second chances."
Sieloff’s goal came after the Heat surrendered three goals in the first thirty minutes of play. Stars right winger Brett Ritchie completed a hat-trick via an empty-netter in the final minutes of the third period, marking the fifth occasion in which Stockton has allowed five or more goals this season.
The team, ultimately, could not match the effort produced Thursday night in San Antonio, where a healthy Emile Poirier brought the Heat level and then ahead of the San Antonio Rampage.
Down 2-1 after the conclusion of the first period, the Heat continued to pound the Rampage’s net, outshooting the home team 20-1 in the second. Only Poirier, who returned to action for the first time since sustaining an upper body injury on November 27, was able to solve Rampage goaltender Calvin Pickard in that span as the forward’s shot from the slot trickled into the net on a rebound off the end boards 4:20 into the period.
The Québécois wasted little time after the start of the third period, stymying Pickard with a forehand-backhand centering move before depositing the puck around the goaltender at the 1:25 mark for his third goal of the season and the eventual game-winner.
Poirier’s tallies earned him the game’s first-star honors. It was his first multi-goal game of the season.
"I was pretty off there in the first couple games of the season, but I think it’s good to get these goals tonight," Poirier said. "It’s about keeping it going and forgetting about this one though now. I have to keep it going."
The 20-year old was not the only Heat player with a multi-point performance on the evening as centre Turner Elson assisted on each of Poirier’s goals.
The first period one-goal deficit was created within the span of 90 seconds. After centre Bill Arnold took 40 seconds to respond to San Antonio’s opening goal with his fourth goal of the season off a backhanded shot from the slot, eyes could barely be batted before the Rampage answered less than a minute later with their second goal of the night.
Despite only producing seven shots in the period, the Rampage capitalized on the Heat’s defensive mistakes.
"Things happen like that, but I don’t like the way we gave them those opportunities [in the first]," Huska said. "That was frustrating – not so much the goals in a short period of time, but we made a couple mistakes that we don’t make or shouldn’t make. We had a pinch at the wrong time and neutral zone turnover against skilled guys that will make you pay. Unfortunately, they did at that time."
The Heat (8-9-0-2) will host their rivals, the Bakersfield Condors, in back-to-back games next week, first at Stockton Arena Wednesday night before an outdoor meeting at Raley Field in Sacramento Friday.