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AHL’s Condors, Heat ready for outdoor game

 

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The American Hockey League’s (AHL) Bakersfield Condors and Stockton Heat are set to make history when they pair up in an outdoor game on Saturday, Dec. 19 at Raley Field in Sacramento (the game was postponed from Dec. 18).

The Pacific Division contest will be just the eighth outdoor game in AHL history and, more importantly, the first in California.

Raley Field is the home of minor league baseball’s Sacramento River Cats in the Pacific Coast League. The stadium has a seating capacity of 10,624 (fixed seats) and more than 14,000, including lawn seating. The game is scheduled for a 4:30 p.m. faceoff.

The novelty game will be the highlight of the Golden State Hockey Rush, an event being hosted by Entercom Communications Sacramento, Raley Field and RS Ice Sports & Entertainment as part of the “Biggest Show on Snow” – a six-week holiday extravaganza at Raley Field extending through Jan. 3, 2016.

The outdoor game is a showcase for the AHL’s new Pacific Division, which includes five California teams.

Stockton is the top development affiliate of the NHL’s Calgary Flames; Bakersfield is the top affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers.

“This event will be a special showcase for our Pacific Division in its inaugural season,” AHL president and chief executive officer David Andrews noted. “We look forward to this celebration of hockey outdoors and to sharing the experience with the terrific hockey fans in Northern California.”

The Golden State Hockey Rush is designed to provide fans with a unique opportunity to participate in a number of hockey- and winter-themed events. Besides the game between the Heat and the Condors, the “Biggest Show on Snow” will include a number of other attractions, including minor hockey tournaments in conjunction with the California Amateur Hockey Association, sledge hockey games, an interactive hockey zone, oversized ice slide for sledding, public skating and a New Year’s Eve concert, among other events.

“We’re very thrilled to be operating in Stockton, and to be part of the first AHL outdoor game in California,” Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke said. “The fan response to the new team and league exceeded our expectations this offseason. With the unique stage of an outdoor game and a big-time rival as an opponent, we need our loyal fan base to provide the team with a tremendous atmosphere at Raley Field.”

Heat season ticket-holders will receive complimentary tickets to the Raley Field game while Bakersfield fans are being offered a special discount on tickets.

Tickets start at $20.

“This event continues to validate just how much hockey has grown in California,” Heat president Dave Piecuch said.  “With eight professional hockey teams calling California home and a growing population of youth hockey players developing across local rinks, we felt that this was a great opportunity to help showcase to the hockey community that the sport is alive and well not only in Stockton, but all across the state.”

This event marks the first time since Dec. 30, 2013 that an AHL regular-season game will be played in an outdoor stadium.

Two NHL stadium hockey games have previously been played in California – one at Dodger Stadium between the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings and the other at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara between the Kings and San Jose Sharks.

Fans can watch the game live on the NHL Network (check local listings) or on AHLLive.com. Fox Sports 970 AM and iHeartRadio will carry the game live in the Bakersfield market. Oilers TV will also be on hand to capture moments of the novel contest.

Visit EdmontonOilers.com to view behind the scenes coverage.

Tickets are available from RaleyField.com.

Bakersfield got a jump on the Heat by posting a 3-2 win indoors at the Stockton Arena on Wednesday, Dec. 16.

The Condors picked up a first-period goal from right wing Kale Kessy, who poked the puck free at his own blue line and snapped a shot inside the post from the right-wing circle.

Right wing Anton Slepyshev made the score 2-0 Bakersfield on a wraparound from behind the net. The Heat responded with a pair of goals from center Derek Grant to open the third period to tie the contest.

California native Matthew Ford knocked home a rebound in the crease to score what proved to be the game-winner with 2:06 left in the contest. Ford, who grew up in the San Fernando Valley, leads the Condors on the season with 10 goals, including a team best five power-play goals.

Stockton outshot Bakersfield 46-23, but went scoreless in five power-play opportunities. Ben Scrivens stopped 44 of the 46 shots he faced to pick up the win. He has stopped 103 of his last 108 shots over the past three games.

Bakersfield improved to 11-10-1-1 (.522) in the division standings while Stockton dropped to 8-10-0-2 (.450).

The Ontario Reign (Los Angeles Kings affiliate) lead the Pacific Division standings with a record of 15-4-2-0 (.762), followed by the Texas Stars (Dallas Stars) with a record of 14-10-2-1 (.574). The San Diego Gulls (Anaheim Ducks) occupy third place with a record of 12-10-0-1 (.543), followed by the San Antonio Rampage (Colorado Avalanche) in fourth place with a record of 11-9-6-0 (.538).

Bakersfield is fifth in the division standings. The San Jose Barracuda (San Jose) is sixth with a record of 9-9-1-3 (.500). Stockton is seventh in the division standings.

The AHL’s 80th anniversary season is approaching its one-third mark. Reception in the new West Coast markets has been favorable. San Diego ranks second overall in the 30-team league with an attendance average of 8,296. Ontario ranks fourth with an average of 7,839 while Bakersfield is 12th in the league with its 5,472 average.

The three California teams are averaging above the league average of 5,374, while Stockton is averaging 4,495 fans and San Jose is averaging 3,906 fans.

Rookie of the Month

San Diego defenseman Brandon Montour earned honors as the CCM/AHL Rookie of the Month for November after notching four goals for 15 points in the 12 games the Gulls played during the month.

Montour began November with an assist in the Gulls’ 3-2 overtime victory against San Antonio on Nov. 3. He had another assist in a 3-2 win at San Jose on Nov. 7, then broke out with a four-point night (two goals, two assists) to help San Diego past Bakersfield, 6-1, on Nov. 11. He tallied two more assists in a 4-3 shootout loss to San Jose on Nov. 13, and his one-goal, one-assist effort at Grand Rapids on Nov. 20 kicked off a five-game scoring streak to end the month. Montour closed out November by assisting on game-winning goals in back-to-back victories over Ontario on Nov. 27 and 28.

Montour, a second-round pick (55th overall) by the Anaheim Ducks in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, led all AHL defensemen in scoring through November and was tied for fifth overall with 21 points (five goals, 16 assists) in 19 games for San Diego. He also led the league in power-play points (15) and power-play assists (12) at the time of his selection.

The 21-year-old native of Brantford, Ontario, made his professional debut with the Norfolk Admirals last spring, tallying one goal and nine assists in 14 AHL games after completing his freshman season at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Montour currently leads the Gulls in points (23) and assists (17).

The Gulls faced off the season with a 7-1 rush, but snapped what later turned into a six-game losing streak with home-and-home wins over Pacific Division-leading Ontario to end November.

The Gulls defeated the visiting Reign, 3-2, in front of 9,251fans at Valley View Casino Center on Friday, Nov. 27, before topping the Reign, 3-1, at Citizens Business Bank Arena on Saturday, Nov. 28 in front of 9,491 fans.

The Gulls now lead the season series between the two Interstate 15 rivals, 2-1. The teams will rematch on Dec. 19 in Ontario at 6 p.m.

First Star Award

Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson, who began the season with the Gulls, earned recognition as the NHL’s First Star of the Week ending Dec. 6. Gibson posted a 3-1-0 record with a 0.76 goals-against average, .968 save percentage and two shutouts to lift the Ducks (11-12-5, 27 points) into fourth place in the Pacific Division.

Gibson posted a 7-4-1 record with a 2.63 goals-against average, .917 save percentage and one shutout in 13 games with the Gulls. He is the first Ducks player to be named “First Star” since Corey Perry in April 2011.

Teddy Bear Toss

The Condors donated 7,908 stuffed animals to charity after its 17th annual Teddy Bear Toss Night on Nov. 28 against the Heat at Rabobank Arena proved a wild success. The game attracted 8,212 fans, many of whom threw stuffed animals of all shapes and sizes onto the ice following the first goal scored in the game by the Condors.

The frenzy ignited when Bakersfield captain Ryan Hamilton scored at 13:55 of the first period.

The stuffed animals were donated to the United Way of Kern County.

– Phillip Brents

Photo: Bakersfield defenseman Dillon Simpson (18) and his Condors teammates will participate in the AHL’s history-making Golden State Hockey Rush outdoor stadium game on Dec. 19 against the Stockton Heat at Sacramento’s Raley Field. Photo/Phillip Brents