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Heat Report: 17.05.10

by Dhiren Mahiban / Calgary Flames
Abbotsford, BC - The Abbotsford Heat’s inaugural season in the American Hockey League can be neatly summarized by the number 450 – its’ roughly the amount of man games the team lost due to injury over the course of the season.

The injuries resulted in struggles during the season; however, it also presented an opportunity, which otherwise wouldn’t have been available.

As a result of the significant number of casualties, the Heat were able to give a number of ECHL players a look, and perhaps more importantly, Abbotsford was able to bring up a number of Calgary Flames prospects from the junior ranks for the playoffs.

“For the organization to see Mitch Wahl, Gaelan Patterson and Lance Bouma come out of the Western (Hockey) League and have to be put into a situation where they can really gain some valuable experience – for the organization that’s a huge benefit,” said Heat head coach Jim Playfair.

“The injuries also offered us the ability to identify players in the East Coast League that we thought could come in and help within (the Heat framework) and I’m really confident that a few of those kids could get American League contracts.”

In the end, Abbotsford had just eight players from opening night suit up in game six of the North Division finals – a game which Hamilton took 4-0 ending the Heat’s season with a 4-2 series win.

“Personally, I’m seriously disgusted at the point we didn’t get past (Hamilton) and get into the third round,” Playfair said. “I thought we had the capabilities to do it, but that’s my job to never be happy if we’re not playing at the end.

“I think good organizations play a hundred games a year and we fell short by seven.”

As far as a highlight of the season Playfair said the second-round loss to Hamilton, and the season in general, was still too raw to pinpoint one single moment that stood out, but did offer up this tongue-in-cheek response:

“What would you be referring to?” he said grinning. “A couple of hockey sticks and a sports coat?”

Of course, Playfair was referring to his well-publicized breaking of two sticks and removing his jacket to get the attention of referees in a home game late in the regular season.

Abbotsford finished the regular season 39-29-5-7 good for third spot in the North Division. The Heat were one of the most penalized teams in the league and their average attendance, 3,897, was likely lower than what the franchise would have liked.

Despite all of this, Playfair believes the year one in Abbotsford was a success.

“I’m happy for the owners. They dedicated two years of their lives. They certainly didn’t do it to get rich, they did it to provide the community with a beautiful building, they did it to provide the community with entertainment, to help support and develop minor hockey, to get some top professional athletes living in the city and helping the kids in the city.

“For all that I think the year was a great success, I think the on-ice product got better as the year went on and I think our connection and our relationship with the fans grew.”

Last month Playfair himself was the subject of rumours, as some believed he was a strong candidate for the Columbus Blue Jackets vacancy, but as of this week the Heat bench boss says he hasn’t spoken to anyone from the Columbus organization.

“I’m under contract with Calgary,” he said. “There’s really a protocol that I have to go through for anything like that to happen so I’m not in a position to really comment on anything and that’s the truth. I haven’t heard anything from anybody other than what was reported earlier.

“I’m totally satisfied and content to stay in Abbotsford – hey I’ll stay here as long as they’ll have me.”

Heading into year two the future looks promising for the Flames top farm club as many prospects are expected to make the jump from the junior ranks to occupy regular roster spots with the Heat.

Off the ice, a full year to market professional hockey in Abbotsford will likely help at the gates for the 2010-11 AHL season.

The question that will remain through the off-season and into next season is how much better could the result have been in year one if the team could’ve stayed healthy.
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