VETERANS SCRATCHED AND HEAT END LOSING SKID
The Abbotsford Heat were at the top of the Western Conference standings just two weeks ago and now were on a free fall – sort of – with three-straight losses, including a 5-0 shellacking Friday night at home versus the Charlotte Checkers.
Then they got a wake-up call.
Krys Kolanos – who is bound for the All Star Game next week – was a scratch Saturday, as was captain Quintin Laing and defencemen Jordan Henery and John Negrin. Plus, Danny Taylor, who had started 17 consecutive games, was replaced by rookie goalie Joni Ortio.
And the Heat won.
After two close road losses and then the blowout Friday at the hands of the Checkers, the Heat pulled off a 5-2 come-from-behind victory Saturday to keep them within six points of first-place in the West (conference, and division).
“Sometimes along the way you need to be reminded that the enjoyment of the game is based on passion and internal fuel,” said head coach Troy Ward. “If you don’t have that, it’s a tough game to be successful in. If I have to motivate guys to play, it’s going to be a long season. Tonight we found 20 guys who wanted to play. That was what was addressed.”
Taking the place of the aforementioned scratches were Paul Byron and Brett Carson, both reassigned by the Flames Friday, as well as James Martin who returned from an injury and Raitis Ivanans.
They all were featured on the scoresheet Saturday.
Byron had three third-period assists. Carson and Ivanans had assists. Martin scored his first goal of the season.
Carter Bancks and Robby Dee also scored their first goals of the campaign. Bancks had missed all of December on the IR and Dee was playing just his second AHL game since signing a tryout contract Friday morning.
THE OTHER FINNISH GOALIE
Ortio got the start in goal for Abbotsford Saturday, just his second start of the year. He earned his first career AHL victory with 35 saves, including a phenomenal second period and a few key saves in the third as well.
His spot within the organization has been put somewhat in doubt in the last couple months. Danny Taylor was signed by the Heat and is ahead of Ortio on the AHL depth chart. In the Mike Cammalleri trade the Flames also acquired goaltender Kari Ramo, who is playing in the KHL but is a proven NHL-quality goalie as well. Leland Irving is currently with the Flames while Henrik Karlsson recovers from his knee injury.
That doesn’t leave a lot of room for Ortio, the 2009 sixth-round selection by the Flames out of Finland. Getting his first AHL win went a long way in showing what he’s capable of.
“I’m really happy for Joni,” said Ward. “He hasn’t had a lot of starts this year. When he’s come in in relief we’ve liked him. In a couple of the games and start he had he probably wasn’t where he wanted to be but as the time has went on he’s settle in. He’s worked very hard since his last start on his game. [Based on Friday’s loss with Danny Taylor between the pipes] he deserved the start, and he delivered.”
Ortio’s record now sits at 1-3-1. With the end of the “6-8 weeks” Karlsson was expected to miss creeping closer, someone will have to go down to Abbotsford, whether it’s Karlsson on a conditioning assignment or Irving on reassignment to the team where he was the AHL wins leader when he was called up.
“These are smart kids,” said Ward. “They understand what’s going on about their business. I think he understands what’s at stake when Leland comes back or Karlsson comes down to play some games here. Joni understands the role he’ll be in if he doesn’t play well. He addressed that tonight as far as where he wants to be.”
BYRON STARS IN RETURN TO FARM
Byron's return to the Heat can only be described as explosive. His three-point effort sends a message to the Flames that he is still ready to go any time they call him back up.
“I thought his energy helped [Dustin) Sylvester,” said Ward. “I thought his energy matched Bancks’ because he’s an internal fuel guy too. That line had a good night. Paul was the catalyst. He had a good stint in Calgary. He’s got something to prove, like all these guys and [he knows] if [he’s] going to go back up [he] has to play well here.”
“I sat out the last three games up in Calgary,” said Byron. “When you’re watching from the press box you get real eager to play hockey. I was ready to play tonight and I felt great.”
The line of Byron, Bancks and Sylvester produced three goals – the winner, insurance and empty net tallies.
“Me and Sylvester have great chemistry together,” said Byron. “Throw Bancks on our line and it creates a lot of energy. I thought the three of us worked well tonight.”
“Paul Byron is a treat to play with, he’s real fast,” said Bancks. “[For the winning goal] he beat the d-man and kind of shielded it with his body. I was coming in the slot to support and he threw it to me and I just moved it a little bit and shot shelf. “
Bancks realizes that the top line of Kolanos, Ben Walter, and Jon Rheault can’t be expected to lead the team all the time, especially right now while Rheault is out with injury.
“If we can get some guys like myself, some secondary scoring, we’ll be able to win a lot more games,” said Bancks. “At certain points this year we’ve relied on our top line to get a lot of wins for us.
"Everyone who plays on the bottom two, three, four lines knows we have to start chipping in and we did that. Robby Dee with his first in a call up from the ECHL, James Martin with a good one-timer there. If we all start chipping in we’ll be a lot more successful.”VANCOUVER AFFILITE COMES TO TOWN
Abbotsford’s proximity to Vancouver (an hour’s drive) means that the Canucks AHL affiliate is always a big draw at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre. The last couple seasons it was the Manitoba Moose, but this year the new affiliate Chicago Wolves come to town for their first two of four games in B.C.
The two teams go head-to-head on Tuesday, Jan. 24 and Wednesday, Jan. 25.