Professional hockey has been prominent in Stockton, California since 2005 when the Stockton Thunder of the East Coast Hockey League came to the 209.
Ten years later and a new era will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 10 in the form of the Stockton Heat of the American Hockey League and its inaugural season opener against the Rockford Icehogs at Stockton Arena.
“I think that it’s really impressive that this city has embraced hockey as they have and I definitely think this is a hockey town,” said Brandon Kisker, director of broadcasting and media relations for the Stockton Heat. “The Thunder when they first came into the league, they led the league in attendance and there’s so many great places that the ECHL is in and it’s just so surprising to see that.”
Fans are reacting positively to the transition from the Thunder to the Heat.The Heat who were known as the Adirondack Flames last year, are owned by the Calgary Flames of the National Hockey League, sent 24 players to the NHL last year. The Thunder sent 25 in the team’s 10 years.
One of the things that may excite Stockton fans about this change over, is that a player could be playing in Stockton one night, and immediately be called up to Calgary playing in a game the next night, according to Kisker.
One of the big upcoming event for the Heat, is competing in the first AHL outside game in two years on Dec. 18 at Raley Field against the team’s biggest rival, the Bakersfield Condors.
In the Thunder’s decade-long stay in Stockton, the team compiled a record that consisted of 310 wins, 328 losses,36 overtime losses and 46 shootout losses to go along with eight trips to the playoffs according to hockeydb.com.
Stockton fan favorite Garet Hunt captained the Thunder for the final three seasons, and is currently taking part in a professional tryout in order to earn a spot on the Heat roster.
“It’s just huge support, you know,” said Hunt. “They’re the reason I keep coming back year-after-year. I love the city and they couldn’t be better to me, making me feel at home.”
Heat Head Coach Ryan Huska said Hunt’s preseason performance is promising.
“He’s had two very good games, I can say that. He’s played really well right now. His first shift tonight, he had a big body check that got our bench going and then he followed up with a goal his next shift and then last night,it’s been documented how well he played last night so he’s done well,” said Huska.
Fans of Stockton hockey will pay attention to the roster situation in regards to Hunt, but expect an understanding response either way.
“I think our fans understand the game,” said Kisker. “I think our fans understand the business as well. I think that’s also one of the toughest things to understand, is the business side of hockey and the fact that some of your favorite players might get called up or traded.”
What can the fans expect from the Heat in the inaugural season? “… I think they’re in for a real treat because this is just another step in the progression of growing the sport and growing more intelligent hockey fans because the American Hockey League is arguably the second greatest league in the entire world in terms of talent,” said Kisker.