BATTLE ON THE BLUELINE
The group of defenders heading into the Abbotsford Heat training camp are immediately noticeable due their sheer size. Of the 15 blueliners attending, 14 are over six feet or taller. Chris Breen, who is heading into his third season with the Heat, stands above his fellow blueliners at 6-foot-7 with Nick Tuzzilino right below him at 6-foot-5. With the additions of Joe Callahan and Zach McKelvie during the off-season, the Heat's defensive corps is guaranteed to be a bigger and stronger group than that of the 2011-12 season.
CALGARYFLAMES.COM 3 PLAYERS TO WATCH:
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2011-12: U. OF MINNESOTA-DULUTH
GP: 41 | GOALS: 9 | ASST: 22 | PTS: 31
PIM: 125 | +/-: 9
BRADY LAMB - Brady Lamb got a small taste of playing in the AHL when he suited up for one game with the Abbotsford Heat at the tail-end of the year and he cannot wait to get his first full professional season underway.
Signed by Flames to one-year, two-way deal after concluding his senior year at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, the organization sent him to Abbotsford on an amateur tryout agreement to get acclimatized to the pace of the AHL. He played his first game on Apr. 15, picking up a plus-two rating against the Toronto Marlies.
Lamb is physical defenceman, making the opposition fight for every inch of ice. He finishes his checks, is effective at keeping the front of the net clear and eliminates time and space with his hard-nosed style and positioning. Lamb has been lauded for his work ethic during his time at Minnesota-Duluth, being called a "leave it all on the ice" type of player.
Lamb, who hails from Calgary, is also a right-handed shot - a rarity on the Heat depth chart. He and Joe Callahan are the only two defenders boasting a right-handed shot.
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2011-12: CALGARY FLAMES
GP: 54 | GOALS: 2 | ASST: 12 | PTS: 14
PIM: 11 | +/-: 3
TJ BRODIE - After being penciled in as an NHL regular by quite a few fans at the beginning of the 2011-12 season, TJ Brodie had a slow start to the campaign and found himself kicking off the year in Abbotsford. His play picked up as the season progressed and when the Flames came calling that November, he didn't waste the recall.
His strong play in Calgary landed him a permanent roster spot and the Chatham, ON product played 54 games in the NHL last season. An upper-body injury cut his season short in March but after having the summer to fully heal, the rearguard is coming into camp healthy and ready to compete for a spot on the Heat's top blueline pairing.
While Brodie focused primarily on rounding out his defensive game last year, he has the skill set to be a strong two-way defender. He makes a good first pass out of the zone, is a solid skater and has great vision. He has shown he has offensive instincts and can carry the puck up ice or join the rush.
Over the past two seasons with the Heat, Brodie spent the bulk of his time paired with veteran Joe Piskula. Ward singled the duo out as his best defensive-pairing at one point so the chances of the two being put together again is highly likely.
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2011-12 - PROVIDENCE BRUINS
GP: 39| GOALS: 1 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 2
PIM: 46 | +/-: -11
ZACH McKELVIE - At first glance, 27 year-old Zach McKelvie looks to be a late-bloomer. Entering just his second professional season with only 39 AHL games under his belt, his resume doesn't match up with that of other players in his age range.
However, the New Brighton, MN native could easily have three-plus years of pro experience under his belt. Signed to a one-year, two-way deal by the Boston Bruins in the summer of 2009, McKelvie was unable to play because after graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point, he had to fulfill U.S. Military requirements. He spent two years in the United States Army as infantry officer, effectively putting his hockey career on hold until he was released from active duty in the summer of 2011.
He attended Boston's training camp last fall before being assigned to their AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins. While he was used primarily as a defensive-defenceman by the Bruins, McKelvie's strong skating skills make him a capable two-way defender with a strong outlet pass.
McKelvie adds a boatload of character to the Abbotsford dressing room and commits a fair share of his time away from the rink to charity. He was named the Providence IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year for his outstanding contributions to the community during the 2011-12 season.