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The stretch run, forward depth challenge

by Dhiren Mahiban / Calgary Flames

Abbotsford, B.C. – The Abbotsford Heat begin a stretch of 13 games against the North Division on Friday night – their play in the next four weeks will go a long way to determining whether the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre will see post-season hockey for the second consecutive year.

The Heat are 13-7-3 against the division this season good for 32 of 46 points.

“Looking at it now they’re all four point games,” said veteran Matt Keith.  “They’re all teams we’re battling with for the playoffs so there shouldn’t be any reason why we aren’t fired up and ready to come out.”

Abbotsford has six games against the Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens), three with the Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings), two tilts with the Manitoba Moose (AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks) and single games with the Lake Erie Monsters (AHL affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche) and Toronto Marlies (AHL affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs).

“That’s how you catch teams, you win within your division,” explained captain Quintin Laing. “It’s exactly what you want. Our opportunity starts this weekend, on Friday, to move up in the standings.

“The best way to do it is to beat the teams in your division.”

Lack of urgency shuts down practice

Abbotsford head coach Jim Playfair wasn’t impressed with what he saw on the ice this past Wednesday; as a result, the Heat bench boss ended things after about 40 minutes.

Playfair stopped practice numerous times to point out mistakes made during drills and did not hold back on the fact that his blue line had just three shots on goal in last Saturday’s 5-4 shootout win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

“I don’t think we were prepared to practice at the pace we need to be a good team at night and I just wanted to get our group back, prepared to be a consistent team,” Playfair explained.  “It takes emotion, it takes a sense of urgency and it wasn’t in place today through the course of practice.

“That’s what experience tells you: you got to make sure your team is prepared to play and win games.”

The Players held their own meetings afterward while coaches had their own closed-door session.

“I don’t know,” said Keith in reaction to the abrupt end to practice. “We got to be ready to practice, got to be ready to play. We have 13 games left and the playoffs started last weekend for us really.

Practice was also cancelled Thursday with just Carter Bancks (concussion), Stefan Meyer (hip/back) and Matt Keetley (knee) skating with assistant coach Steve O’Rourke.

Forward depth challenged

With Ales Kotalik being recalled this week, Cam Cunning done for the season with a partially torn MCL in his left knee and Ryan Stone attending his grandfather’s funeral in Calgary, Abbotsford’s depth up front will be challenged.

On Friday morning the Heat announced the signing of centre Tyler Ruegsegger to a PTO. Ruegsegger, a 23-year-old, has spent time with the Alaska Aces and Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL this season picking up 16 goals and 29 points in 58 games.

“Luckily we’ve had guys that have played all year on this team like (Bryan) Cameron, you never know what’s going to happen with Kots,” said Laing.  “We’ve got guys that are willing to step up and play more minutes, be more accountable and that’s what you want as a player.”

Added Playfair, “It’s certainly an opportunity for somebody to step up. I think Matt Ketih has been a lot better competitor the last few games – he can take his game to another level. Jonny Rheault certainly has been competing hard the last few games; Ryan MacMurchy has come in and allowed us to have another big, strong energy winger that can score goals. When you look at it, it’s an exciting time.”

Heat on Kotalik’s tenure

In 18 games with the Heat Kotalik picked up four goals and 19 points while forming chemistry on a line with Meyer and Laing.

“Kots did exactly what he was supposed to do – he came down with a great attitude, was a good teammate, worked hard, he gave us a chance to look at a real top NHL player at this level and he was a really important part of our group,” Playfair said.  

“Our kids, whether they realize it now or later, they’re going to look back on how Kots prepared himself and it will make them better professionals and I think that’s very respectful of what he did.”

During Kotalik’s time with the Heat, Abbotsford went 10-7-1.

“Kotalik was unbelievable when he was here,” said Keith. “I think he handled himself better than anybody could’ve thought. I know it was tough for him to be down, but he was a great guy, a great person, he was great in the dressing room.

“I think the NHL is where he belongs so we wish him nothing but the best.”

Week in Review

Abbotsford entertained the league-leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins last weekend and managed to split a pair of games with the Pittsburgh affiliate.

On Friday night the Heat were blanked 4-0 as Aldergove, BC native Brad Thiessen picked up a shutout in front of friends and family.

The following night Abbotsford surrendered three separate leads, but thanks to Kotalik’s shootout winner managed to edge the Penguins 5-4.

MacMurchy, John Armstrong, Josh Meyers and Laing had the other goals for the Heat in the win.

Injury Report

Kris Chucko – Concussion
Mitch Wahl – Concussion
Carter Bancks – Concussion
Matt Keetley – Knee
Cam Cunning - Knee

Bancks Update

Bancks participated in most of Wednesday’s practice wearing a non-contact jersey and says he’s been progressing along symptom free. The 21-year-old Heat rookie suffered a concussion in mid-November and then had a setback after a Dec. 7 game.

“Things are definitely moving forward, I’ve had some hard skates with the coaches and what not, some bag skates, able to work hard in the gym too and just doing everything I can to get myself back in shape and avoid any setbacks,” Bancks said.

“Conditioning is an issue, but we don’t want to just explode in to action with how long it’s been we want to be careful and make sure everything is right.”

The Marysville, BC native has yet to be cleared for contact.

Look Ahead

Abbotsford begins their stretch against the North Division Friday night as the Hamilton Bulldogs pay a visit for a pair of games.

In two games against the Bulldogs this season Abbotsford is 1-0-1.

The Heat are then on the road for four beginning next Friday at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton.

For regular updates on the Abbotsford Heat follow Dhiren on Twitter:

Author: Dhiren Mahiban

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