Even the high-pitched screaming from more than 7,000 school-aged kids on Thursday could not lift the Condors to victory at Mechanics Bank Arena.
The Condors saw an early 2-0 lead turn into a 3-2 deficit before rookie Ryan McLeod tied the game against Stockton 3-3 with just five minutes left in regulation.
But with the vast majority of the 7,680 in attendance back on the big yellow buses and returning to school on Field Trip Day, Stockton’s Alan Quine scored 1:26 into overtime to leave the Condors with just a point earned in the 4-3 overtime loss.
This was the sixth time this season the Condors (7-7-2-0) were looking for back-to-back wins. They have been able to do that just once, which is a big part of the reason they have been floating around the .500 mark most of this season.
“I thought it was a character point for us,” said Condors coach Jay Woodcroft said. “We did lots of really good things, including building a lead and starting on time and all that kind of good stuff. I was pleased with our staying in the fight when it was 3-2 with 10 minutes left. We could have easily been deflated but we came back and not only did we have the tying goal but we had lots of chances to score. That’s a good sign.”
Certainly the positives were there: Defenseman Logan Day getting his first goal to make it 1-0 in his 10th game after starting the season injured; rookie winger Krill Maksimov scoring his first professional goal to make it 2-0 just five minutes into the game, and rookie center McLeod getting his second goal of the season to snap a 12-game drought.
But one play seemed to change the entire momentum of the game.
Stockton’s Andrew Nielsen laid a big open-ice hit on Day just inside Bakersfield’s blueline 11:20 into the first. That sent Josh Currie rushing to Nielsen and, to the delight of the kids in the stands, a fight was on.
It was a brief scuffle but it had huge ramifications. Currie, the Condors leading scorer, was assessed an instigating penalty (two minutes), a fighting major (five minutes) and the automatic misconduct (10 minutes) for instigating. All told, 17 minutes of penalty time, which actually turned out to be 18:04 of ice time went by before Currie was finally set free 9:27 into the second period.
The game was tied less than six minutes after Currie’s infractions.
The Heat scored a power play goal at 12:07 to make it 2-1 and added an even strength goal at 12:43 to tie the game.
“I mean, you never know when the most important shift in a hockey game is, right?,” replied Woodcroift when asked about the play. “I think his heart was in the right place. He was trying to defend a teammate. What I didn’t like about that is I thought it was two players who squared up and dropped their gloves at the same time. I didn’t like losing him for that amount of time. We have enough players, we should be able to weather that storm.”
After a scoreless second, Stockton’s Ryan Lomberg scored his second goal of the game four minutes into the third to put the Heat up 3-2.
There was little time to fret over the loss as the Condors had a flight to catch at 4:30 to start their journey to Iowa where they play on Friday and Saturday nights.
“We’re in one of the busiest stretches of our season now, six games in 10 nights,” Woodcroft said. “We’re taking it one day at a time. We’ve got some banged up bodies we’ve got to get returned back into our lineup as well.”
Among the “banged up” are goaltender Shane Starrett, who has not played since suffering an injury on Oct. 13; center Cooper Marody (four games missed); and winger Kailer Yamamoto (injured Nov. 16 against Colorado).
“They’re making the trip, that’s a good sign for us,” Woodcroft said. “Those are three pretty big pieces but our philosophy has always been next man up. While there might be a hole here or a hole there we have people who are more than capable to step in and fill those holes.
“Right now we’re in that spot where we’re asking people to step up. There are good signs for our team game and once we get healthy we feel we’re as deep as any team in the Pacific Division.”