The Stockton Heat ended a four-game losing streak in impressive fashion Thursday night, besting the top team in the Pacific Division, the Ontario Reign, 4-1 in southern California.
Left winger Bryce Van Brabant scored his fourth goal in as many games late in the third period when he went top shelf on NHL veteran goaltender Peter Budaj to increase the Heat’s lead to 3-0.
“We had a nice breakout when [Jakub Nakladal] got it to me,” Van Brabant said. “We talked about how [the Ontario Reign] wanted to take away the middle, but he got it to me there. [Assistant Coach Todd Gill] was telling me to shoot the puck more in practice today, so I just shot it and luckily it went in.”
The effort earned Van Brabant first star honors.
20-year old defenceman Oliver Kylington assisted on the two goals prior to Van Brabant – a point shot by left winger Kenny Agostino in the first period and a putback by Emile Poirier in the early stages of the third. It was Kylington’s second multi-point game of the season.
Fellow blueliner Brett Kulak notched his first goal of the season on an empty-netter with just over two minutes left in the game to seal the victory.
Goaltender Joni Ortio made 26 saves in his fifth win for Stockton. Head coach Ryan Huska could not recall a recent occasion on which the Finn was more dominant.
“It was probably the best game I’ve seen him play in a year and a half and I’m really happy that the last couple games we’ve seen him play it seems he has a purpose and has played well,” Huska said. It’s nice to see and hopefully he can continue to play like that moving forward.”
Stockton had 19 shots on goal. Centre Derek Grant paced with four.
It was the Heat’s first win since defeating the Bakersfield Condors in the first-ever AHL outdoor game on the west coast at Sacramento’s Raley Field on December 18. They finish the month of December with a 4-7-0-0 record.
Stockton (10-14-0-2) will return to northern California play host the Texas Stars for the first time this season on Saturday night. Puck drop is set for 5:00 p.m. MT.