With a flurry of goals in the final minutes, the Stockton Heat pushed back against the San Jose Barracuda on Saturday night.
Kerby Rychel’s hat trick wasn’t quite enough to overcome a hole, though, as the Heat lost 6-4 to their regional rival.
“The guys battled back and showed some pride so we appreciate that,” coach Cail MacLean said. “We needed to play the first two periods the way we played the third.”
The third period brought a “desperation to work harder together” that MacLean hopes to impress upon his young team in the days to come.
“Although we’re directing it, I think we’re trying to sort of work on maybe step C before A and B,” MacLean said. “We’re sort of waiting on other people to do the job. And it’s a case where they can’t do it on their own. We have to do it as a group and the group wasn’t together.”
Stockton (1-3) hoped to carry momentum from its first victory of the young season, a 5-4 overtime decision over host Ontario on Friday.
Despite his three goals, all of which came in the final 12 minutes, Rychel’s postgame thoughts were on the Heat’s early missed opportunities.
“We made an adjustment after the second,” Rychel said, “but at the end of the day, when you’re giving up that many chances, you know breakaways and 2 on 1s, everyone’s got to be more responsible defensively, for sure.”
Stockton is scoring, with at least four goals in each of its last three games. But the Heat has had to come from behind every time. Trailing by three was too much Saturday, especially after losing the puck during a power play in the last 1:40.
Instead of capitalizing on a personnel advantage and tying the game, the Heat saw San Jose’s John McCarthy fire the puck the length of the ice into an empty net, sealing the Barracuda victory with just over a minute to play. It quieted what had become an excited crowd of 3,282.
“It’s still really early in the season so here’s a lot of time to clean it up,” Rychel said. “When you’re giving up five goals a game, six goals a game, it’s really tough to win.
“Obviously it’s a lot easier playing with the lead. I think we can build off it going towards the next game.”
San Jose returns to Stockton Arena next Saturday, Oct. 20, for the second of 12 meetings with the Heat this season.
Rychel praised San Jose goalie Josef Korenar. Each of Rychel’s goals came amid traffic in front of the net. He indicated the key was being there for rebounds against the “aggressive” San Jose goalie.
Rychel’s second goal put the Heat within 4-3, but the Barracuda answered at 14:12 to re-open the margin. Francis Perron sent the puck whizzing past Stockton goalie Tyler Parsons for a 5-3 lead.
“Kerby is a player that in that area, underneath the hashmarks down toward the goal, is really good,” MacLean said. “And he’s very courageous in there. He’s timely and he’s competitive. He was instrumental in us turning that game around and that’s something that we’re looking for him to bring is that good game under the dots.”
Curtis Lazar put the Heat on the board at 13:35 in the second period, scoring for the second consecutive night. He was in the right place at the right time as the puck ticked off his skate and into the net past Korenar during a power play.
Positioned just a couple feet to Korenar’s right. Lazar moved to accept and tap in a pass from Tyler Graovac via Rychel during a time when San Jose was two men down.
“Gravy did a great job finding me on the backdoor there,” Lazar said. “It was actually skate to stick. I forgot about the stick part. The referee saw what I was trying to do and allowed it.”
The Heat flew up from Ontario on Saturday morning, but refused to cite game-day travel for Saturday’s loss. Rychel said every team has those travel issues. San Jose was off on Friday. The Barracuda had lost at home to Bakersfield on Wednesday, a 3-2 shootout.