Hot on the Road
The Abbotsford Heat have the dubious distinction of being one of the best road teams in the entire American Hockey League but at home they’ve struggled, keeping them in second place in the AHL’s West Division.
Currently they are on a seven games in 10-nights road trip against divisional opponents. They opened that with three straight wins, including a 5-3 win over the Houston Aeros, a 3-2 shootout victory and 3-1 regulation win over the Texas Stars.
“It’s taken a real team effort,” said Heat head coach Troy Ward. “We’ve stuck to our system. We’ve played with discipline. We’ve been a little more opportunistic than we have at home – we’ve scored more goals on the road than we have at home.”
Their record at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre is a disappointing 2-3-1 but they are 8-1-0-0 away from home.
Their next game is Tuesday when they pay a visit to the San Antonio Rampage at 10:30 a.m. Central time, 8:30 a.m. Pacific. How will the Heat fair in the early start?
“We haven’t fared too well in [the afternoon starts we’ve had] so if you ask me if I’m nervous, I am,” said Ward. “We’re practicing in San Antonio really early in the morning to get our bodies used to performing at that time of the day.
“I used to coach in Houston so the 11 o’clock starts is something I’m familiar with,” said Ward. “They’re very predominant down here because they have the kids come straight from school so we’re expecting 10 to 11,000 screaming students. It’s actually a pretty cool atmosphere, believe it or not. I’m just hoping we can feed of that energy.”
Rheault on fire for Heat
The Heat’s top line has been explosive thanks to the addition of Krys Kolanos, but over the past three games the line’s left winger Jon Rheault has been the hottest member, recording two two-goal efforts plus two assists.
“Jon isn’t an overly tall man but he’s incredibly physically fit and he’s gifted with his legs – he has unbelievable speed.,” said coach Ward. “He’s probably one of the top American-league guys with speed. When he utilizes the speed to his advantage he puts people in a position they’re not used to being in so quickly. He’s played with a good player in Ben Walter. He’s been getting Jon pucks in the right spots and he’s been able to capitalize, because of sometimes his own attributes and sometimes Ben Walter’s been special for him.” Ex-Flame contributing on the farm
In October Raitis Ivanans made his return to professional hockey after sitting out a year with a concussion he suffered in the first Calgary Flames game of 2010-11. Since then he has spent some time in the press box because of Abbotsford’s depth at forward, but took advantage of his recent opportunity, recording an assist and then the winning goal over the Texas Stars on Saturday.
“It’s nice to get Raitis in,” said head coach Ward. “He didn’t dress for a few games at home. We’ve got a lot of veterans. He’s provided us with a lot of physical energy…and emotional energy. He’s a very well-conditioned man. When he gets that big frame moving he’s a tough guy to stop. It’s a pleasure to see him not only play but contribute and help our team win the last few games.
Also returning to the line-up was Lance Bouma who had a mild concussion and is just now getting his game-readiness back.
[Ivanans], John Armstrong and Lance Bouma have provided us with a lot of energy,” said Ward. “One thing our fourth line didn’t do early in the year was provide us with a lot of energy. It wasn’t so much that they needed to score – the bonus has been the last two games is they not only provided us with physical energy, and Lance has been a big part of that, but they’ve been able to chip in and help the scoring as well.”
Two Abby players promoted to big club in Calgary
Last week two players were promoted to the Flames. On Wednesday defenceman T.J. Brodie was called up and then Thursday forward Paul Byron got the promotion. Despite the departures, the Heat have looked at the moves as positive for the farm team.
“Those two losses have given the other guys some opportunities,” said Ward. “There are some guys down here that think they deserve those opportunities [on special teams] and this allows them to seize the opportunity and elevate their games. Sometimes to lose players, a lot times teams think you might take a step back because there’s a lot of players hungry to prove that not only do they belong at the American-league level but that they belong in the National Hockey League someday.”
One of the holes was filled by defenceman Patrick Cullity, called up from the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL. He had one assist during the weekend.
“Patrick Cullity was part of our training camp in Abbotsford and has been doing really well the past two games. It’s the land of opportunity in the American Hockey League,” said Ward.
Hagman joins the Heat
Niklas Hagman recently clear waivers and was sent down to the Abbotsford Heat and though he might not be there for long, Heat head coach Troy Ward is happy to have the NHL veteran among his ranks.
“He’s been a good teammate,” said Ward. “He went to the game (on Saturday in Texas) to be part of the guys. He was first-class and everything I expect him to be. How long he’s here, I’m not so sure, I don’t control that. A lot of things will happy before Tuesday’s game by NHL-standards, like re-entry waivers and such, but if he’s here, yeah, I’ll put him in. I’ll look forward to coaching him no different than I am with the other guys and he seems to be okay with that.”
Blueline injury update
Defenceman Joe Piskula was injured during the Heat’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Oklahoma City Barons at home Nov. 5 and has not played since.
“Joe Piskula has been out the whole trip,” said Ward. “He’s one of our alternate captains. We miss him back there because he’s probably one of our best skaters. You miss Joe and minutes because he’s a penalty killer and a lot of times he plays against the other team’s best line.”
Author: Alex Joehl