ABBOTSFORD, BC -- The Abbotsford Heat proved that even the lowest scoring team in the American Hockey League can get hot at the right time.
The Heat went into Sunday’s game with the league’s lowest goals-for-per-game average, just 2.37. That was following a 6-1 loss to the San Antonio Rampage (Florida Panthers affiliate) Saturday night at the Abbotsford Entertainment Centre.
Sunday they fell behind again, 3-0 in the first, but this time the team didn’t panic.
“It sounds stupid to say in hockey but we just stuck with our system,” said forward Carter Bancks. “Last night when we got down a couple, guys would try and force plays, we’d get beat and give up a lot of odd man rushes because guys were trying to do too much.
“[Sunday] we had guys blocking shots, diving in front of pucks. You could just kind of feel it, even when we were down 3-0 that there was no way that we were going to lose this game.”
And indeed they didn’t, coming back to win 6-5 in a game that catapulted them into fourth in the Western Conference standings. The fifth through ninth positions are separated by just one point, and fourth through 10th by just four points. Though the Houston Aeros have a game in hand of Abbotsford, the Heat were glad to take the points of division rival San Antonio (who dropped to seventh with the loss) and equally ecstatic they were able to hang on in the end to keep the contest from reaching overtime.
KOLANOS HEATING UP AGAIN?
Krys Kolanos, who had not scored since March 2, had a monster night, recording a hat trick and two assists.
“When Krys is playing how Krys played today, I wish I could put it in some kind of words ... he just illuminates the room,” said Heat head coach Troy Ward. “He makes everyone else more confident.”
Kolanos played on a new line with Paul Byron and Dustin Sylvester Sunday, while his former centre Ben Walter skated with Hugh Jessiman and Adam Estoclet. Both lines were paramount to the team’s success.
“We had some huge efforts,” said Heat forward Carter Bancks. “Kolanos stepped up huge, with Sylvester and Byron. Walter’s unit played great. It’s a great win. Those ones feel really good when you can come back.”
Kolanos, who had been shuttled to and from the Calgary Flames through a stretch in which he scored just one goal in nine AHL games, spearheaded an Abbotsford comeback that began with his first-period power play goal.
Walter had two third-period goals and had an assist while Sylvester also scored and added an assist for Abbotsford (35-26-7). Jessiman and Byron each had two helpers.
“Walter, Jessiman and Estoclet have been one of our best lines,” said Ward. “They’ve kind of held us together on road. We managed those guys back together today. I wanted to put Kolanos with more speed so we put him with Byron and Sylvester. Krys skated the game well. They had some chemistry.”
Kolanos was typically humble after his five-point afternoon.
“I’ve got to give all my credit to my linemates,” said Kolanos. “Sly (Dustin Sylvester) and Paulie B (Paul Byron), they really skate the game well. They create opportunities for me to come with speed and give me time. They played unbelievable games tonight.”
At 15:42 of the third period Kolanos completed the hat trick. Sylvester won a race for the puck and centerd it from deep in the corner to Kolanos at the far side of the net and he roofed it from a bad angle.
“We could have the whole team shoot that 6,000 times and not make one of those,” said Ward. “That’s a goal-scorer’s goal. That’s an unbelievable shot. You just don’t do that.”
Ward talked about the big game Kolanos had in relation to his first game as a member of the Heat when he recorded three goals and an assist, beginning a run for the Heat that gave them the best road record in the AHL.
“It felt like a bit early in the year when Kolanos came on board and we were in Grand Rapids and he got a hat trick,” said Ward. “Then we caught fire a little there. A lot of guys got some confidence. Like tonight: The more we scored, the more our posture got aggressive.”
“We don’t score a lot of goals. I’m hoping the confidence comes from the fact we scored some goals.”
With the playoffs approaching the team is hoping to get some bodies back – both from the injured reserve and also from Calgary. But the coaching staff is glad that any additions will not necessarily ruin chemistry on the club now.
“It’s so important for our team from this point on to get some chemistry in our top six forwards,” said Ward. “If you’re going to have a good team your top six forwards have to kind of melt themselves into the same spots each day, built of each other and trust each other. I was encouraged by that a lot. If we manage to work back in [Quintin] Laing this week, anyone who comes back this week [from Calgary], or we still have some injured guys, [Jon] Rheault [for example], those guys can fall into different places and we’ll still be in good shape.”
CHICAGO RIVALRY UP NEXT
The Vancouver Canucks’ affiliate the Chicago Wolves visit the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre this week on Thursday and Friday. The geography alone creates a natural rivalry but since the teams played each other six times already, these two games will be huge. Chicago is trying to nail down their division lead which would give them the Western Conference’s third seed automatically and keep them out of the dog fight that is the playoff race.
“We always enjoy it,” said Bancks of the Chicago games. “The crowds are larger, some cheering for us, some not. It’s a fun environment. We seem to have a pretty good rivalry with them. We like it when things get a bit heated. We’re going to bring a tough game Thursday and we’re looking forward to it.”
“And they obviously get excited to play here because the brass is obviously 45 minutes down the road so we know they’re going to bring their best. They have a tonne of skill.”