Abbotsford, BC – The Abbotsford Heat concluded their season-high 10-game road-trip with a 1-0 win over the Rochester Americans (AHL affiliate of the Florida Panthers) on Wednesday night.
With the win, the Heat finished up 5-4-0-1 with 11 of a possible 20 points away from the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
“When you look back at the whole trip, the only game that got away from us was the Manitoba game where they scored five goals,” said head coach Jim Playfair. “We put ourselves in a position, in my mind, where we could’ve gone 9-1-0 just as easily.”
The Heat wrapped up the trip playing five games in six nights, which included stops in Chicago, Rockford, Lake Erie and Hamilton.
“I think we’re understanding what we have to do to win games and whether it’s one goal or four goals,” Playfair continued. “We’re scoring enough now to give ourselves a chance to win.”
WEEK IN REVIEW
Stefan Meyer had a pair and Jon Rheault found the back of the net as well last Friday night in Chicago while Greg Nemisz picked up the shootout winner for the 4-3 victory.
The following night in Rockford the Heat were edged 3-2 by the IceHogs – Quintin Laing and Nemisz were the goal scorers for Abbotsford.
Last Sunday, the Heat were edged by a similar 3-2 score in Lake Erie as Cam Cunning and Matt Kieth had the goals for Abbotsford.
This past Tuesday night, the Heat edged the Bulldogs 4-3. Ryan Stone, John Armstrong, Rheault and Bryan Cameron provided the offence in the win.
Keith had the lone goal on Wednesday as Leland Irving picked up his career-high fourth shutout of the season in the 1-0 win over the Americans.
VETS STEPPING UP
Both Keith and Rheault have picked up the slack offensively over the last couple weeks – the duo combined for 14 points over the recent road trip while playing predominately along side Ryan Stone.
Keith, who now leads the team in scoring, has four goals and two assists in the past 10 games while Rheault, who trails Keith by just two points, had four goals and four helpers on the trip.
“They’re playing a lot and they’re playing in important situations,” Playfair said. “The bottom line is they’re good people and they want to play good.
“I think both of those players are motivated by the fact that Jay Feaster’s moved some contracts out and made some moves for players to go up.”
KOTALIK FITTING IN
Recently demoted forward Ales Kotalik joined the Heat for the five-game, six-night portion of the road trip and fit in well picking up four assists while playing with Cunning and Gaelan Patterson.
“He’s been excellent,” said Playfair. “He’s been a real good character player to help the young kids, teach them how to be a good pro, how to work on and off the ice – I think he’s been excellent.”
The Flames reassigned Kotalik on Jan. 28 after the Jindrichuv Hradec, Czech Republic native had just three goals in 20 games since coming off a knee injury suffered during training camp.
“It’s been physically demanding,” said Kotalik of the adjustment. “We had a pretty good swing, those two games we lost 3-2, we probably shouldn’t have lost, but we feel good about the team and hopefully we can build on that during this home stand now.”
The Flames acquired the 32-year-old last February along with Chris Higgins, in a trade, which saw Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust go to the New York Rangers.
Kotalik was initially a sixth-round selection of the Buffalo Sabres in 1998 and had three 20-plus-goal seasons in Buffalo before signing with the Rangers.
"I don't think I have anything to prove to anybody after 10 years in the league," he said. "You either get the chance and the role, with the goal-scoring salary I'm having and which I earned with the (three) 20-goal seasons in the league.
"If I get the opportunity to get back (to Calgary), it would be great. If not, it would probably be my last couple months in North American hockey."
NEGRIN EYEING RETURN
After missing 51 games with a knee injury it’s just a matter of time now before defenceman John Negrin returns to the Heat line-up.
The 21-year-old had surgery in October to have screws, which broke over the summer, removed from his kneecap. The screws were initially put in Negrin’s knee during a procedure last March.
“It just takes a lot of time for the tendons and muscles to kind of re-attach to the bone,” Negrin explained. “There’s no real damage to the cartilage or tendons.”
The North Vancouver native dressed in three games in October registering an assist before having the knee looked at.
“I’m pretty close, it’s just a matter of strength right now, getting my legs back on the ice. It’s been a while, almost six months since I’ve been skating,” he said. “I still got to get in some battle drills, but if I were to guess, I’d like to be back in a couple weeks.”
Kris Chucko – Concussion
Carter Bancks – Concussion
Mitch Wahl – Concussion
John Negrin – Knee
Matt Keetley - Knee
Josh Meyers - Neck
The Heat conclude a stretch of seven games in nine nights this weekend as the Toronto Marlies pay a visit to Abbotsford.
The Heat and Marlies play back-to-back Friday and Saturday night.
The Flames top farm club will depart for Calgary next Wednesday where they play the Oklahoma City Barons (AHL affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers) next Friday night.
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