ABBOTSFORD, B.C. - By embracing his new role as a checking forward, Akim Aliu may a step closer to reaching the NHL.
Aliu scored twice to lead the Abbotsford Heat to a 4-1 win over the Houston Aeros on Wednesday night in American Hockey League action.
Aliu came to the Abbotsford Heat on loan from the Winnipeg Jets in late December and was formally acquired by the Calgary Flames, the Heat's parent club, in Jan. 30 in a trade.
Though his offensive numbers aren't what they were in junior, he had a big game Wednesday that came with praise for his well-rounded game.
"He's proven in this league with some other teams ? and by his status as a second-round guy that he can score," said Abbotsford head coach Troy Ward. "The neat thing that maybe people don't understand is that now he's doing it in a third-line checking role. He's scored nine goals as a checker. That says a lot about his development."
Aliu seemks to be embracing his role with the Heat.
"I was told I was going to be a checker here and play against the other team?s top line," Aliu said. "I've been on (Heat captain Quintin Laing's) line all season and he?s helped me out a ton with my game."
The Flames showed their commitment to Aliu when they formally acquired him in a trade for defenceman John Negrin, .
"It helped me out a ton when they finally traded for me," said the Nigerian-born forward. "They reiterated their confidence in me moving forward."
Nick Tuzzolino and Hugh Jessiman also scored for Abbotsford (32-22-6), which snapped a two-game losing streak, including an ugly 7-6 shootout loss Tuesday morning to the Aeros.
"The biggest reason we came out with a win tonight is because we played such a simple game," Aliu said. "We didn't try to do too much."
The Heat have points in seven of the last nine games, keeping them fourth in the Western Conference.
"Every point???s big right now," said goaltender Leland Irving. "We're working for home ice advantage. That being said, the teams in ninth and 10th are not too far behind. We're not going to sit back on our heels."
Irving stopped 25 shots for the Heat in his third-straight start after a start for the Flames last week.
"That was as well as a game he's played in a long time," said Ward.
Joel Broda scored for Houston (27-19-12), which has won just twice in the past eight games and slipped to eighth in the conference.
Houston's Matt Keetley, fresh off his first AHL win in two years, was pulled after allowing three goals on 14 shots. Joe Fallon made nine saves in relief.
Abbotsford opened the scoring at 10:11 when Ryan Howse knocked his man off the puck and it slid to Aliu. The former Blackhawks second-round pick threw a backhander toward the net and converted his own rebound for his eighth of the season.
"The first goal all the credit has to go to Howse for making a block on a shot," Aliu said. "Without that the puck stays in our zone and we play defence another 20, 30 seconds. I was lucky to get a good break and I got a good rebound."
Tuzzolino then wired a low slapshot from the point through a partial screen to double the lead. Tuzzolino was playing his second game since being recalled from the ECHL???s Utah Grizzlies.
Fourteen seconds later the Aeros got on the board. Tuzzolino gave the puck away in the corner to Justin Fontaine and Broda one-timed the centring pass for his 11th of the season.
The Heat quickly regained their two-goal cushion. Aliu took a breakaway pass from Chris Breen and scored his second of the game at 13:26, chasing Keetley from the net.
"That was a huge play by Breen, making that pass," Aliu said. "I didn't even thing he saw me ??? great vision by him. I was lucky enough to put it five-hole."
In the third, Aliu made one last contribution that led to the final Heat goal. On his way off from a shift in which he nearly completed the hat trick, Aliu dumped the puck into the corner where it was retrieved by Adam Estoclet. Estoclet fed Jessiman in the high slot and his wrist shot beat Fallon for his 24th of the year.