ABBOTSFORD, BC -- The Abbotsford Heat and Toronto Marlies kick off the second round of the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs on Tuesday night at Ricoh Coliseum with Game 1 of the best-of-seven Western Conference Semifinals. The Marlies finished the regular season in 2nd spot in the conference, winning the North Division with 96 points, just three behind the top seeded Oklahoma City Barons of the West Division. The Heat ended the season with 92 points to earn the 4th seed and final home ice position for the opening round.
The series follows a ‘2-3-2’ format which sees Games 1 & 2 in Toronto on Tuesday May 1st and Thursday May 3rd, before the Heat host three games in a row at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre on Saturday the 5th, Tuesday the 8th and Wednesday the 9th of May (if necessary). The Marlies would host Games 6 & 7 of the series on Saturday and Sunday the 12th and 13th of May.
Over four games between the two former divisional rivals, the home teams excelled winning each game of the season series. The Marlies hosted the Heat on October 26th and February 4th at Ricoh Coliseum and dispatched of the visitors with ease in each contest – scoring five goals in each game while only allowing two goals from the Heat over the pair of match-ups.
The Heat kept the home-ice trend alive in the final two games of the regular season schedule where they blanked the Marlies 3-0 in Game 75, before winning 5-4 in overtime with numerous regulars out for the season finale. Toronto’s point for reaching overtime on April 15th was the only point earned by a home team in the season series.
The Marlies power play, which finished the season ranked 26th in the AHL, beat the Heat with regularity over the four meetings – scoring six goals on 21 attempts, while the Heat would pot two goals on 16 attempts against the Marlies top-ranked penalty kill.
Hugh Jessiman and Max Reinhart were the most productive Heat players against the Marlies, as Jessiman posted a goal and three assists in his two games with the Heat against the Marlies, and Reinhart scored twice in his professional debut in the last game of the regular season.
Rookie Matt Frattin and Sophomore Joe Colborne have been the sharpest Marlies in the season series with Colborne amassing two goals and three assists, while Frattin has scored four times in as many games.
ROUND 1 RECAP
Abbotsford entered its post-season best-of-five match-up with the Milwaukee Admirals on a seven game winning streak, which has since been stretched to ten games after a three game sweep, and leaves the club as the hottest team in the AHL.
In every second period of the series, the Heat were either tied or trailed before pulling away from the Admirals. Krys Kolanos recorded four goals and four assists in the series while Danny Taylor started all three games and allowed just two goals in each.
The Marlies also swept their first round opponent – the Rochester Americans – with relative ease. After winning seven of 10 regular season meetings with the Americans, the Marlies dispatched of their enemy in just five days – winning a pair of one-goal games in Toronto before blanking the Americans in Rochester 3-0.
Jerry D’Amigo leads all AHL post-season skaters with five goals and a plus-6 rating as well as an assist. D’Amigo had two game winners, a first goal and an insurance marker over the sweep of the Amerks.
CALDER CUP PLAYOFF EXPERIENCE
The Heat have a distinct edge in career games played in the Calder Cup Playoffs with 384 to the Marlies 102 games of post-season action. Just one Marlies player – Mike Zigomanis – had played more than 10 Calder Cup games prior to this spring’s post-season.
Neither the Heat nor the Marlies qualified for the 2011 Calder Cup Playoffs, and have a combined total of just five players who suited up in last year’s second season with the Heat having a combined 32 games played via Guillaume Desbiens, Paul Byron and Ben Walter, while the Marlies have just 11 games played from Carter Ashton and Kelsey Wilson.
The Heat have now qualified for the post season in two of their three years of existence and have advanced to the second round in each, while the Marlies are making their first Calder Cup playoff appearance in three seasons after participating in the Conference Finals in 2008, and losing in the first round in 2009.
NHL COACHING CANDIDATES
The Heat are led by first year Head Coach Troy G. Ward who has set a franchise record by amassing 42 wins after serving as an assistant in Abbotsford last season. Calgary Flames GM Jay Feaster has stated that Ward will be a candidate for the Flames vacant coaching position to be filled this season, while Ward has stated he isn’t spending time on anything except the Heat’s playoff run.
Dallas Eakins is in his third season as the Marlies bench boss, and has seen his team earn more wins with each campaign behind the bench. When Ron Wilson was relieved of his duties in the second half of the Toronto Maple Leafs season, Eakins was a candidate for the job, but it was veteran coach Randy Carlisle that was named the new head coach for the Leafs.
The Heat have been led by the resurgent Kolanos – who set new franchise records for goals (30) and points (61) in a single season despite playing just 47 games due to call up and injury. Kolanos has been named the AHL’s player of the week twice this season and has recorded 15 goals and 11 assists in his last 11 games played – including eight points in just three playoff games.
Walter, Jessiman, Greg Nemisz, and Dustin Sylvester are all also converting at a point-per-game pace or better through the first round of the playoffs.
For the Marlies, Mike Zigomanis led the way in the regular season posting 61 points in 68 games with the club, while Ryan Hamilton led the team with 25 goals. Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin both flirted with point per game paces with the Marlies in seasons split between the NHL and the AHL. Toronto has six players with at least three points through their opening round series.
The Heat enter the second round with Taylor playing his best hockey of the season between the pipes. Taylor – a mid-season signing – has won eight consecutive stats, and has back stopped eight of the Heat’s last ten games played. Leland Irving – last season’s Heat MVP – has split time between the Calgary Flames and Abbotsford since December and became a father in early April; the combination hasn’t allowed the 23-year-old to play with regularity in recent months. Both Irving and Taylor have a home win and a road loss in their two starts against the Marlies.
Ben Scrivens enjoyed a sensational first full AHL campaign for the Marlies, and made his NHL debut with the Maple Leafs in a career season. The Cornell graduate led the American Hockey League in goals against average (2.04) in the regular season, and helped backstop the toughest team to score on in the league. Scrivens shutout the Heat once and earned two wins in three starts against the Fraser Valley outfit.
CALDER CUP CROWD
The winner of this best-of-seven series will face the victors of the other Western Conference Semifinals. The top-seeded Oklahoma City Barons host the sixth seeded San Antonio Rampage with Game 1 beginning on Thursday night. Three of the final four teams remaining in the Western Conference hail from the West Division.
In the East the Connecticut Whale face the top seeded Norfolk Admirals, while the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins face the second seeded St. John’s Ice Caps.