Abbotsford, BC -- The Abbotsford Heat had mixed reviews of their weekend set with the Hamilton Bulldogs in which they earned three out of a possible four points.
The Heat won Friday night at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre 4-3 in a shootout. The Heat were down 3-1 in the third but rallied to tie it and send the game to extra time.
In Sunday’s matinee game the Heat also found themselves trailing in the third and again tied it but lost in overtime 3-2.
“It’s tough to do it two games in a row,” said team captain Quintin Laing. “Usually when you come back to tie it the other team wins it in the shootout or overtime, that’s just the way it is. Today the way we played that’s exactly what should have happened. We weren’t very good at all. We were lucky to get a point.”
Head coach Troy Ward agreed that the consolation point wasn’t deserved. Part of the failures in the two games was penalty trouble – an ongoing problem noted by the players, coaching staff and media a like.
“We’ve had an ongoing issue this year with penalties,” said Ward after Friday’s game. “I’ve addressed it internally and here as well – it’s a hockey-sense issue. It’s players being put in uncomfortable positions where at…moments of truth they have to make a really good decision. And we have some players that don’t make good decisions in moments of truth and that’s the bottom line.”
It was more of the same after Sunday’s game.
“If the same guys are taking the same penalties over and over, if we don’t like how they’re reading things and situations they’re putting themselves in, those are things that not only are we going to examine but our organization will examine because you need to have people that can think to be successful. We’ve already addressed it by sitting players, by not dressing players in games, by sending guys down to the ECHL, we’ve addressed it in every which way possible. If you put guys in the same situation over and over and notice they keep making taking the same penalties then it’s time to not put them that situation anymore.”
“It is concerning,” said Laing Sunday. “We’ve got to stop doing it. It didn’t really cost us tonight, but the timing and the way we’re taking those penalties, they’re not smart penalties. We’ve got to look at that as an issue we’ve got to correct.”
Abbotsford has the league’s best penalty killing unit but was 9-for-12.
With the three points Abbotsford still sits in third place in the West Division but are just two points back of the AHL-leading Oklahoma City Barons. At 19-8-2, the Heat would be first-place in any other division but are stuck behind the Barons and the Houston Aeros in the newly-minted West Division.
WAHL GIVEN NEW OPPORTUNITY
The Calgary Flames selected Mitch Wahl 48th overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft but the Seal Beach, California native has had the most success with the Flames’ AHL affiliate. After notching 96 points in his final year with the Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs he has managed just two goals and seven assists in 26 games for Abbotsford over three seasons. He spent five games with the ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies – notching seven points in five games – but his AHL development had stalled so it was time for a fresh start and the Flames loaned him to the Hamilton Bulldogs.
“Obviously it was a rough start to the year for me,” said Wahl after Friday’s game in Abbotsford. “Abbotsford’s a good team and are pretty deep up the middle, so they tried to put me in a better situation. It hasn’t really been what I expected yet but it’s early in the season still so I’m going to just keep working hard and hope I can fit in here.”
The Heat are loaded at centre with a mix of veteran professionals and top prospects so there wasn’t always room in the four lines for Wahl. But the 21-year-old wasn’t anticipating a change in scenery.
“I didn’t really expect it,” he said. “I got sent there while we were on the road. I’ve never been moved before.”
In his first game back to Abbotsford – he’s got just one assist in 11 games with the Bulldogs – he was chosen to go first in the shootout against his old club – and he scored the only Hamilton tally in the shootout. He didn’t get much playing time in the later part of the third period and overtime so he was a little rusty when he got the nod.
“I was a little shaky when I stepped back on the ice,” said Wahl with a chuckle. “I was praying it would go well for me. Obviously I got a lucky bounce off the post – I was thankful for that.”
“On a personal level I’m happy for Mitch and wish him all the world of success because he’s part of our family,” said Heat coach Troy Ward of his former charge. “We gave him his Christmas present early, on behalf of the organization.”
HEAT GOALIES IN THE SPOTLIGHT
While Danny Taylor of the Abbotsford Heat continues to shine for his new club, the man he is temporarily replacing gained some attention of his own on Friday.
Leland Irving, a workhorse goalie for the Heat the past two seasons, got his first NHL start Friday against the Florida Panthers. The 2006 first-round pick made 39 saves in a 3-2 shootout loss.
Though he is with the big club for a couple months while Flame Henrik Karlsson recovers from a knee injury, the Heat haven’t lost any love for their team leader.
“I thought he was outstanding and I couldn’t be happier for him,” said Ward. “You talk about the character of our team, there wasn’t one guy who didn’t watch the first period until we prepared to play. We actually had to shut the TV down. They were really pulling for him.”
Meanwhile Taylor has taken over the crease duties on the farm since signing an AHL contract earlier this month and sports a 4-0-1 record. Friday in the win he made some top-notch saves that reminded his coach of why the team went out to get him when his PTO with the Springfield Flacons expired.
“Today I think you saw a little bit of a glimpse of what his abilities are when we don’t play well in front of him and we didn’t play well in front of him so he had to make some great saves, so give him credit,” said Ward.
In those five games he has a 1.57 GAA and a .947 save percentage.
Defenceman Jordan Henry spent last season in the KHL in Russia so his last AHL goal was in 2010. When he found the back of the net Sunday in game 28 of the season it was a celebration in more than one way.
The goal triggered the Teddy bear toss, the annual event to benefit local charities and the more-than 3,000 fans showered the Henry and the Heat with stuffed animals after the home team’s first tally.
“I joked with the guys earlier about scoring the Teddy-bear goal so we got a couple laughs over it for sure,” said Henry.
“It’s been a struggle for sure,” he added. “I didn’t think my first one was going to take this long to come. But I’m trying to focus on other parts of my game, not grip my stick too tight and not worry about the offence.
Author: Alex Joehl