ABBOTSFORD, BC -- The Abbotsford Heat concluded the 2011-12 regular season with a 5-4 OT victory over Toronto Marlies on Sunday and are now focused on taking on the Milwaukee Admirals in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs.
"We've had our struggles in Milwaukee this year," head coach Troy Ward told the Abbotsford News. "They have really good stick skills, and obviously the way they pushed through at the end (to make the playoffs) is an indication of their ability.
"But it is a good match-up, in terms of the fact I think they're a very good team. When you're playing your very best hockey right now, you might as well play the best (team)."
The Heat were on fire during the tail end of the stretch drive, going 8-0-1 in their last nine outings. They had secured fourth place in the Western Conference prior to Sunday's tilt with the Marlies so Ward opted to rest Krys Kolanos, Ben Walter, Dustin Sylvester, Paul Byron, Jon Rheault, Brian Connelly and Clay Wilson.
With those regulars out, Max Reinhart, Turner Elson, and Brady Lamb were able to play their first game with the Heat.
Reinhart, who was drafted by the Flames in the third round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, scored twice in his first professional game, ending the afternoon with a plus-two rating and two shots on net.
"I got off to a good start," Reinhart told the Abbotsford News afterwards. "I got kind of a gift, I guess you could say, on the goal line, and I was able to just beat my d-man to the net and got it in.
"That gave me a lot of confidence as the game went on, and my two wingers were making passes right on the tape, which in junior you don't always get. You have to be mentally sharp the whole game, and I thought I handled not knowing what to expect pretty well."
David Eddy, who the Flames signed to a two-way, two-year deal in March, also scored his first professional goal in the victory.
"The team was elated, that was the coolest thing," Ward said of Reinhart and Eddy's tallies. "The character of this team and how they celebrated was pretty neat."
The Heat's quest for the Calder Cup begins on Friday. Here is how the best-of-five series breaks down. Please note game times are in Mountain Time:
Game 1: Abbotsford at Milwaukee, Friday, April 20, 6 PM
Game 2: Abbotsford at Milwaukee, Sunday, April 22, 4 PM
Game 3: Milwaukee at Abbotsford, Wednesday, April 25, 8 PM
*Game 4: Milwaukee at Abbotsford, Friday, April 27, 8 PM
*Game 5: Milwaukee at Abbotsford, Saturday, April 28, 8 PM
After their win over the Marlies, the Heat handed out their annual team awards to four deserving players.
The Top Rookie award went to Dustin Sylvester. The Red Deer native scored 15 goals and posted 35 points in 64 games this season, setting a new franchise record for points scored by a rookie. TJ Brodie was the previous owner of that title with 34 points to his name in the 2010-11 campaign.
Carter Bancks took home the Community Player of the Year award for his outstanding contributions to the city of Abbotsford. He was a frequent visitor in Abbotsford schools, promoting reading to students, and participated in Special Olympics events.
The Fan's Choice Award went to Kolanos. The forward set franchise records for goals scored (30) and points recorded (61) despite the fact he only played in 47 games this season. His stellar performance with the Heat earned him a two-year, two-way deal with the Flames. He ended up playing 13 games with Calgary this year, notching one assist.
Clay Wilson was presented with two awards on Sunday as he was named the team's Top Defenceman and Team MVP. The blueliner put up 43 points (16 goals, 27 assists) in 66 games and ended up with a plus-nine rating. When Quintin Laing was out of the lineup, Wilson donned the captain's C.