HAMILTON - A sluggish start for the Abbotsford Heat on Saturday, which put them behind two goals very early, was quickly forgotten about because of Joni Ortio.
Ortio made 35 saves, and denied all three shootout attempts, as Abbotsford came from behind to defeat the host Hamilton Bulldogs 3-2 in American Hockey League action.
Heat forward Blair Jones attributed his team's slow start to its late-night trip from Utica, where Abbotsford played the Comets on Friday.
"We played in Utica last night and didn't get to the hotel until about quarter after four this morning," he said. "We called our timeout and coach reminded us that there was a lot of time left to be played and that we'd get our chances.
"Fortunately, our goalie stood tall early and made some big saves all game."
Jones had both goals for Abbotsford (7-4-1) in regulation, while Markus Granlund scored the shootout winner.
Justin Courtnall and Martin St. Pierre had goals for Hamilton (5-2-3). Robert Mayer made 34 saves in a losing effort.
The Heat scored on all three shootout attempts, with Granlund, Corban Knight and Jones all finding the back of the net to secure the win.
The Bulldogs enjoyed a dream start to Saturday's game, scoring twice within the first five minutes of the opening period.
Courtnall punished a glaring Heat mistake to score his first goal of the season at 1:46. Abbotsford was hemmed into its own zone, and with Gabriel Dumont pressuring the defenders behind the net, a clearing attempt came straight to Courtnall, who easily swept a shot past Ortio from close range.
The Bulldogs doubled their lead less than three minutes later on the power play, after John Ramage was penalized for hooking at3:15. Magnus Nygren slid a pass across the blue line to Nathan Beaulieu, who released a low slap shot that St. Pierre managed to tip on goal. Ortio kicked aside that first attempt, but St. Pierre connected with a second effort as he was falling that slipped past the goaltender.
Abbotsford capitalized on a giveaway early in the second period to score its first goal of the night. A routine point shot was kicked aside by Mayer, but defenceman Joel Chouinard struggled to corral the rebound and could only knock it forward to Jones, who snapped a quick shot past Mayer at 1:04.
Momentum seemed to have swung in the Heat's favour, but Abbotsford wasted an opportunity to level the game with a lengthy two-man advantage minutes later.
Hamilton's Gabriel Dumont barged into Ortio and was whistled for goaltender interference at 4:26 of the second, putting the Bulldogs two men down for 1:23. But the Heat mustered very few chances on the ensuing five-on-three power play, and the teams remained tied.
Play opened up as the second period wore on, with both teams seeing excellent scoring chances being denied.
The most obvious of those fell to the Heat just over ten minutes into the period, when the Bulldogs' St. Pierre gave the puck away at his own blue line and Mayer came to his rescue with a sliding pad save on the ensuing breakaway.
Abbotsford found its equalizer, and Jones his second goal of the night, on the power play in the closing moments of the period. The forward was on the point with the man advantage, and paused with the puck before firing a low slap shot that moved through a screen and beat Mayer to the short side at 18:57 of the second period.
Hamilton head coach Sylvain Lefebvre believed that his team may have taken its situation for granted after jumping out to a two-goal lead.
"Maybe we expected the game to be easy after it was 2-0," said Lefebvre. "We can't expect that, especially not against a team that's first in a division and a conference.
"We were too casual in the second period."
Note: 40-year-old David Harris, a goaltending coach for the Newmarket Hurricanes of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, was Abbotsford's backup goaltender on Saturday. Harris was signed to an emergency contract after regular backup Reto Berra was called up by the Calgary Flames earlier in the day.