The Abbotsford Heat snapped a three-game losing streak with a pair of home wins versus the Houston Aeros this past weekend. Friday Abbotsford notched a 3-2 victory over the Aeros (Minnesota Wild affiliate) and Saturday defeated Houston 4-1.
The Heat are now just five points out of fourth in the Western Conference after being in danger of falling out of the playoff picture not long ago.
HOWSE'S FIRST PRO POINT
The Flames’ third-round draft choice in ’09 has struggled to make the jump to the professional ranks this season but on Saturday he took a big step towards becoming the player Calgary thought they drafted.
Ryan Howse scored his first career professional goal to open the scoring in the 4-1 win. It was also the first AHL point for Howse, a night after getting just 44 seconds of third-period ice time.
“It’s the biggest relief of my hockey career,” said Howse. “I didn’t know how long it’d take.”
Howse scored in his 21st game of the year after recording 51 goals in 70 games for the nearby Chilliwack Bruins last season in junior.
“This kid’s really paid his dues, more off the ice than on,” said Ward, speaking of the 20-year-old left winger. “It’s a real feel good story.”
“At one particular time I held him out of hockey for a month for training purposes,” said Ward. “He worked with Mike Thompson, our strength coach and worked extremely hard to get Ryan down to a position where he could be successful. When he came out of that unfortunately he got injured fairly quick. He’s missed some significant time this year. It’s not as long as people feel it is [to get that first goal]. The whole team was elated.”
He deflected a shot by Guillaume Desbiens while playing on a line with the ex-Canuck and captain Quintin Laing, who was seeing his first action this weekend after missing some time with a concussion.
“It was a great play by Desbiens just to put it at the net,” said Howse. “I was just at the right place at the right time. I didn’t even know it went in. I just saw Laing with his hands up and that put a big smile on my face.”
Defenceman Brett Carson had been a healthy scratch for two games. The player who was supposed to man the Flames blueline this year is now struggling to make the Heat scorecard because of the AHL’s veterans limit and Abbotsford is full of them right now.
“It shows you how tough our business is,” said coach Ward. “Here’s a guy who has a one-way deal and has gotten put down to the American league level. “He’s been through an injury at the end of last summer lifting weights that caused him to miss significant time preparing for an NHL season. Couple that with other better players getting an opportunity to play and establish themselves in the NHL. Players who were on the cusp of making it took Brett’s job.”
“Now this is home for him,” said Ward. “He’s gone through a little bit of turmoil. He’s trying to settle in. he’s been a healthy scratch but we’re trying to manage our veteran situation the best we can right now with management.”
Carson scored the eventual winning goal on a nice one-timer in the first period Saturday.
“I thought Brett played more passionate than he’s played,” said Ward. “I was happy for him to get a goal, but beyond the goal I thought he played much harder than he had been playing.”
KARLSSON BACK TO CALGARY
The Flames’ backup goaltending situation is started to clear up now that goalie Henrik Karlsson
seems to have completely recovered from the knee injury that kept him out for a more than two months.
Friday he recorded his first professional win of the season, making 24 saves to hang on and defeat the Aeros.
“I’m definitely a better goalie this year than last year but I haven’t got those W's,” said Karlsson. “It’s been a bit frustrating. It was a really nice feeling to get the first one so I’m just going to build on this.”
Karlsson made 21 stops Saturday in the 4-1 win in his fourth straight start to end a two-week conditioning stint.
“Tonight was another great night by Hank,” said the Heat captain Quintin Laing.
“I feel he’s right where he probably needs to be,” said Ward of Karlsson. “I think the most important thing that could have happened here happened – he got a win. It’s tough to be a professional goalie, I don’t care what level, and not win. I think he’s played pretty well in all the games he’s played in, but at the end of the day he’s got to win. If I’m elated about one thing it’s that.”
In four starts the Swedish goalie recorded a 2-2-0 record with a 2.26 goals against average and .903 save percentage.
NEW BODIES GENERATE OFFENCE
Last week the Heat added a large body to their mix and he made an immediate impact.
The player known on Twitter as @HugeSpeciman has landed in Abbotsford. Six-foot-six Hugh Jessiman brought his 20 AHL goals to the Heat and already added to that total.
“Obviously he’s a guy who’s had a good year scoring goals so it’s probably appropriate he got the first goal for us [Friday] on a great couple passes by Ben Walter and Adam Estoclet,” said Ward of Jessiman, who now has a career-high 21 goals. “Sometimes it’s tough for a new player to come into our system and play…but he managed a good game…and he was boisterous. He was a difference maker on the bench.”
The other relatively new body is Adam Estoclet. He was acquired in time to play last Saturday versus the Oklahoma City Barons but recorded four assists in the two games this weekend to make his mark on the Heat’s second line.
“Ben Walter knows how to get the puck to his line mates and Adam Estoclet made a nice pass there,” said Jessiman of his goal. “Those are the types of goals I have been scoring. It was a nice play by both of my line mates.”
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
Abbotsford now hits the road for five games in nine nights, beginning on Tuesday in Peoria.
“It was nice to get a couple home wins going into the road trip to build a little momentum,” said Laing.
“Because we come home so much in March we needed to feel good about our barn and how we can play here – that’s the thing I’m most elated about,” said Ward.
To continue the return to the top portion of the Western Conference standings health – both on the farm and with the parent club – is going to be the biggest key. Forward Jon Rheault’s out, and newly acquired all-star defenceman Brian Connelly is out.
“I think we survived tonight pretty well but we’ve got a couple guys pretty banged up right now,” said Ward. “If we’re going to make a push here in March we need to get healthy. And part of that…is just Calgary getting healthy. We can’t ultimately control that but we understand that part of our success will be when Calgary gets healthy.”
“We’re a team that’s a lunch pail group. We’re not just going to out-skill teams at this level. We have to work extremely hard.”