STRUGGLING AT HOME
The Heat have began to struggle at home in what is becoming the curse of the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
After a successful road trip that catapulted them into a tie for first place in the American Hockey League last weekend, the Heat now find themselves in just third place in the AHL’s West Division after back-to-back losses to division-rival San Antonio Rampage (Florida Panthers affiliate).
The Rampage entered the two-game series last in the West but with the two wins have moved into fourth.
Friday night Abbotsford had one its poorest outings on the year, a 5-0 drubbing in front of one its larger crowds – 4,576.
"Obviously San Antonio didn’t think (they were underdogs), and that's all that matters," said Abbotsford captain Quintin Laing. "They believed they could win this game and earned it. They outworked us. We got everything we deserved tonight, and it probably should have been worse. It was a humble experience for the team."
In the game Leland Irving, fresh off being named the Reebok/AHL Player Of The Week, was pulled after allowing two goals in the first. He returned at the start of the second, but was again replaced by Joni Ortio in the second frame after allowing two more markers, with Ortio allowing the final San Antonio tally.
"Both goalies worked and did what they could," said Abbotsford head coach Troy Ward. "They both made big saves but we didn’t play well in front of them."
Ex-Heat player Keith Seabrook, returned to Abbotsford for the first time since being traded last season and picked on an assist in both Friday and Sunday’s games.
Sunday afternoon the teams hit the ice at 1 p.m. and a smaller crowd – with fans preparing for the Grey Cup game in Vancouver – saw the Heat battle harder but with a similar result, a 3-1 loss.
“We could only go up from [Friday’s loss],” said Heat alternate captain Guilluame Desbiens. “I liked what I saw tonight but we have to stick with the process, stick with the system. We believe in our system. It has made us successful often enough this year [so] we have to execute it better and with more conviction on consistent basis.”
“I thought we were ready to play [Sunday],” said coach Ward. “It was one of our better afternoon games. We started slow but I thought we picked it up by the end of the first and…the second [period] was awesome. We didn’t have the puck in our end at all in the second period. I liked that. We carried good play too.”
After falling behind just 29 seconds into the game, Abbotsford struggled to tie the game but thought they did midway through the contest when Krys Kolanos scored a power play goal. However, it was waved off by the referee Mark Lemilin because he deemed Desbiens had made “unintentional interference” with the goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris.
“That’s the way it goes,” said coach Ward. “That’s life. I didn’t like his call there.”
“The standard has been not what he called. We’re 20 games in and game 21, no one has called it like this all year. That’s the American Hockey League – [the referees] are here to develop just like anybody else.”
Abbotsford undeniably tied it with Quintin Laing’s slap shot goal.
Then, about seven minutes into the third San Antonio got what would be the winning goal, just one second after a Heat penalty expired.
“When you’re struggling in certain parts of your game, that’s the way things go,” said coach Ward. “We took an unnecessary penalty in the middle of the third. We’ve been a great killing team all year but that on that goal the guy had barely got out of the box.”
Abbotsford’s penalty kill was number two in the AHL heading into the game. Their number-five ranked power play went 0-for-11 on the weekend.
BACK ON THE ROAD
Now the team is back on the road where they’ve had much success this season, going 11-2-0-0. They begin with a game against the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators affiliate) on Tuesday night.
But will they be able to flip the magic switch and become the dominate road team they were on their last two trips?
“It’s not just going to happen,” said Ward. “We’re getting challenged mentally right now. This is probably one of the most difficult stretches I’ve ever coached in. You don’t look at going home for two and going on the road for four as an easy thing. It would be different if we were living in Rockford and we were travelling to Chicago and Peoria – but we’re not. The schedule doesn’t favour us until the second half.
“I don’t find Tuesday as an easy game,” added the head coach. “We have to leave here at 5:15 in the morning, travel all day and get into Milwaukee at four-o’clock in the afternoon and be ready to go against a team that is a very good team. It’s a great challenge and it’s a great part of their development.”
BYRON RETURNS AFTER NHL STINT
Paul Byron returned to the Heat Sunday afternoon after a six-game stint with the Calgary Flames in which he recorded two goals and was a plus-four.
Though the head coach was happy to get him back, he said ideally he would have remained with the big club.
“It’s good to have Paul back,” said Ward. “It’s good one way and not so much in another. The goal is to keep Paul in the National Hockey League so if we were doing our job he’d be in the National Hockey League. But it’s nice to have him back. It certainly helps our team; it gives us our speed back a little bit.”
He had no points Sunday despite taking some shifts on the top line with Ben Walter and Krys Kolanos.
“It’s going to take him a couple games to come back,” said Ward. “We played different systems than they play there. I thought he handled himself well, though I’m sure he’d like to play better since sometimes for a guy like him…they want to get points.”
General Manager Jay Feaster said that he wants to get Byron back to the Flames as soon as possible, but had to send him down to make room for Blake Comeau, who was acquired off waivers last week.