ABBOTSFORD, BC -- The Abbotsford Heat have a week off but are happy to be sitting just two points behind the AHL-leading Oklahoma City Barons.
The Heat can thank some improved play at home, including points in their last six games at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre (5-0-1 in that stretch).
The Baby Flames are coming off a two-game sweep of the Texas Stars (Dallas Stars affiliate), winning 5-3 Thursday and 2-1 Friday night.
Halfway through the season series the Heat are 4-0-0 against their West Division rival. Individually, Lance Bouma and Jon Rheault seem to have the Stars’ number. Rheault now has three goals and four assists in the four games, while Bouma has four of his six points this year against the Stars.
“For me personally, I’ve had a good go against them,” said Bouma Friday after the game. “Our team has obviously been successful against them this year. Everyone chipped in and played hard to get the two points tonight.”
Bouma scored the winning goal Friday in the third period, his third of the year, a bank shot from behind the goal line.
“It all started with [goalie Danny Taylor] making a great play from behind the net,” said Bouma, retelling his goal. “He came out to play the puck and saw none of the defencemen were open so he found [Justin Dowling] in the middle – it was scary at the beginning but he made a great play. Then Dowls up to [Guillaume Desbiens] and Desy just chipped it in. I knew the goalie couldn’t get back over there quick enough so I just tried to throw it on net as quick as possible.”
“If this was the ‘70s and I could take him to a bar to play bumper pool with him, we’d probably win – it was a heck of a shot,” said Abbotsford head coach Troy Ward. “[Bouma] matches up personality-wise against them. They’ve got some guys who play with energy so it’s like two energy trains hitting each other. Booms seems to thrive in that environment. The way he plays with reckless abandon and draws attention, it makes him [salivate]…and wants off the bench all the time. He’s had some success against them.”
In that game the Stars opened the scoring with a power play goal against the AHL’s second-ranked penalty killing unit.
“They were a little bit disappointed with the first one,” said Ward about the PPG just 3:35 into the game. “They thought ‘We worked so hard to understand what the other team’s going to do and what we have to do’ and they felt like they gave them an easy one.
"I think the difference in the penalty kill after the first goal was pressure – we got to the pressure areas and got on them quicker and didn’t give them as much time.”
Bouma tried to break down the secret to their PK.
“We just have a lot of structure,” said the ex-Vancouver Giant. “We watch PK video ever day and make sure everyone is on the same page out there and communicating well. Everyone that goes over the boards knows what their job is and what they have to do.”
Krys Kolanos made a gorgeous pass, threading the needle to send Rheault in alone for the tying goal on the next shift. Thursday the Stars and Heat went back-and-forth all game until Chris Breen’s point shot proved to be the winner.
Kolanos had a goal and two assists and Rheault had three helpers in that one.
Taylor played well again in between the pipes for the Heat, stopping 75 of 79 shots in the two games.
“Taylor’s been great for us,” said Bouma. “He’s had to do a lot of work in the couple games here. He’s made a lot of big saves.”
NEW FRANCHISE MARK FOR RHEAULT
With his first-period assist on Kolanos’ goal, Rheault became the career points leader in the Abbotsford Heat’s three-year history. By game’s end he had 63 points, surpassing Cam Cunning’s 60. Jason Jaffray had recorded 54 in just one season before being traded.
"I actually had no idea," said Rheault when asked whether he was aware of the mark. "It's a great organization so I'm obviously happy about it."
"He's been a big part of this organization since he got here," said coach Ward. "It shows a mark of consistency."
Rheault had missed three games with an injury but he said his time in the press box did him some good.
"When you're looking from up top things look a lot slower," said Rheault. "I learned a lot in those three games I missed."
NEW BODIES ON THE FARM
The Abbotsford Heat went through a few roster changes recently. One, Clay Wilson was called up to the Flames after Thursday’s game. Going the other way was Joe Piskula, who served a five-game stint with the Flames before returning to Abbotsford Friday afternoon.
“It was a great experience, and a good opportunity,” said Piskula. “It was nice to get a good opportunity to showcase myself a little bit. Coming back here is always a hard thing – you want to stay up there. But I hadn’t played in a little bit so it was nice to play again. I’m going to keep fine-tuning my game, trying to get back there.”
Ward was glad to have back one of his best penalty killers and was impressed by his alternate captain.
“I thought Joe played a lot better than I thought he was going to play,” said Ward. “Playing in the National Hockey League is way easier than here. This is like playing like a Chinese fire drill for that kid tonight. Over the last month he’s used to playing chess.”
“It’s a whole lot different game, easier in some ways and harder in some ways,” said Piskula. “The talent level isn’t quite as high but there are a lot of good players out here. The systems are a little more erratic. You have to be on your game. Up there it’s so controlled – everyone is exactly where they’re supposed to be.
“It was an adjustment because up there I was only playing 10-15 minutes and hadn’t play for a little while. I’ve been skating a lot but it’s not the same as in a game so it took a little while to get my game legs going. It felt good though.”
On top of that, there were some new signings, including Judd Blackwater, who signed a PTO after a hot start to the ECHL season and Akim Aliu, who was loaned from the Winnipeg Jets.
“[Piskula] said it was like coming back to a whole different team and had to introduce himself to five or six guys – he’s been gone that long,” said Ward.
Aliu scored Thursday in his first game as a member of the Heat.
“At this level, the size and girth of people makes a big difference,” said Ward of Aliu. “He can get to places in a hurry. He’s got NHL-feet. That’s what he brings. Obviously he’s got skill. You can see why he was drafted in the second round. That’s what he brings.”
Blackwater was third in the ECHL in scoring with Las Vegas. The ex-Spokane Chief made a good impression with his new coach.
“The puck is always on his tape or around this guy – it’s like a magnet,” said Ward. “That’s pretty encouraging. I see a lot of talent there. There’s a little dirt under his fingernails – he isn’t afraid to get in there and get dirty either. He’s got skill and he’s got that bit of moxie about his game.”
FORMER DRAFT PICK COMES BACK AROUND
In 2004 the Calgary Flames drafted Jimmy Spratt in the seventh round. They never ended up signing him, but he crossed paths with the organization on Friday, starting just his second AHL game against the Flames’ AHL affiliate Abbotsford.
He is 1-1-0 now after the 2-1 loss, in which he made 25 saves.
Did he have a chip on his shoulder when starting against the organization that gave up on him?
“A little bit – It was kind of in the back of my mind,” said Spratt. “More importantly, I want to continue to make a good impression on the guys here in Dallas.”