SPECIAL TEAMS DOMINATION
As any coach will tell you, special teams can dictate an entire game and in order to be successful throughout the season, clubs need to have their power play and penalty kill in order.
The Abbotsford Heat have been spectacular when it comes to killing off infractions, shutting down 39 of the 40 power plays they've faced this season - a 97.5% success rate when it comes to the penalty kill. They have also notched three short-handed tallies this year.
"We're extremely well-prepared going into every penalty kill," said Carter Bancks, a regular on Abbotsford's penalty kill unit. "We know the video, we know what to expect. We've been doing a great job of executing. Obviously, any good penalty kill starts with your goaltending and our goaltending has been outstanding thus far.
"We're just doing a really good job of doing the little things. Everyone is sacrificing their body. We're getting big shot blocks. We're getting 200-foot clears. We're being smart - if we have a chance to create something offensively, we've done it."
The Heat's power play has also been very effective this year, particularly on home ice. Abbotsford has converted on 32.5% of their opportunities at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Center. AHL-leading goal scorer Roman Horak potting three of their seven power play markers.
Bancks believes the Heat's special teams prowess comes from a deep belief in the system.
"We all buy into what we're doing. Everyone is playing the same way. No one is trying to do too much or too little. We trust each other."
BARONS OFFER A GREAT TEST FOR THE HEAT
Before the 2012-13 AHL season even started, many pundits had predicted the Oklahoma City Barons would be a powerhouse in the league thanks to the influx of young talent on their roster. Edmonton Oilers forwards Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall are the Barons "Big Three" up front and are a threat every time they're on the ice.
Oklahoma City also has high-octane blueliner Justin Schultz on their roster, who leads the AHL in points with 15 in 10 games.
"They've got a really good hockey team," Bancks stated. "They have some big names in their lineup, some guys we've watched on the national stage for a couple of years. We're really excited about this test.
"We're going to be ready."
Bancks has played against a few of the Barons big names during his junior days, giving him a good idea of what Abbotsford can expect out of the likes of Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins.
"I played against Eberle a ton in Regina when I was with the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Nugent-Hopkins when he was in Red Deer. I know they're really good players but it's going to be a great challenge and I think we're going to rise to the occasion here."
BYRON READY TO GO?
Shifty forward Paul Byron may hop back into Abbotsford's lineup tonight after missing the first nine games of the season with an upper body malady he suffered in the summer. Head coach Troy Ward told the Abbotsford News that Byron could play his first game of the campaign this weekend if his conditioning was where it needed to be.
Byron himself is anxious to see some game action after a long recovery.
"I feel really good," he told the Abbotsford News this week. "Fitness-wise, I worked out pretty hard with the strength coach while the team was on the road, and I skated pretty hard. This week was more about the timing back and getting into the rhythm of things.
"To be able to start playing again and not be watching from the stands is pretty exciting."
Bancks is looking forward to seeing his teammate back in action soon and feels Byron's skill and speed will benefit the Heat's offensive group greatly.
"Pauly brings a ton to the team. He'll be flying around, that's for sure. He's got a ton of speed. He plays the game extremely hard for a little body. His scoring too, he's put up a lot of numbers in this league and he's scored in the NHL.
"The biggest thing with Paul is that he plays hard every shift. His speed is just something you notice. We noticed in practice the first day he was back. It was like, 'Wow. He's flying.'"
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