THE RIVALRY CONTINUES
The Heat's weekend back-to-back tilt versus the Utica Comets could have been dubbed something of a lopsided affair.
Abbotsford entered the weekend as the league's top team while Utica sat dead last in the standings. Instead, the outcome was a bit more of a David and Goliath story.
Coming into Friday's game the Heat held a four-game win steak. However, Pascal Pelletier and the Comets ended the streak short with a 3-2 victory.
Despite having outshot the Comets 37 to 17, the Heat couldn't solve Joe Cannata. Trailing 3-0 early in the third period and being no strangers to resilient comebacks, Michael Ferland led the charge as he tallied his fifth of the year on the power play.
In Saturday's rematch, Cannata stood tall once again stopping 33 of the Heat's 36 shots in a 4-3 overtime victory for the Comets.
Rookie spark plug Turner Elson opened the scoring on a rebound to collect his second of the season midway through the first period. However, Kellan Lain responded with back-to-back goals of his own to give Utica the lead.
Early in the final frame, Josh Jooris knotted it up at 2-2 on a beautiful passing play from Ben Street and Ferland. The Heat found themselves down by a goal once again, but Street found an opening short-side on Cannata and wired a shot top shelf on the power play to tie it up.
However, Pelletier played hero in overtime to seal the win for the Comets.
The Heat will return to action at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre on Friday and Saturday against their division rival San Antonio Rampage.
Before the 2013/14 season had opened, Special Assistant to the General Manager, Craig Conroy, had mentioned a desire to acquire some toughness for the Abbotsford Heat.
It appears the Heat have found that toughness. On November 22 the Calgary Flames sent a 2014 sixth round pick to the Dallas Stars in exchange for forward Lane MacDermid.
"I was just at the rink in Dallas and Jim Nill came and talked to me and said something might be up so sit tight," MacDermid recalled following Thursday's practice. "He told me a few minutes later that I'd been traded to Calgary."
"I was surprised. I didn't see it coming. I knew they'd picked someone up so I knew something might happen, but once I thought about it I thought it'd be a good opportunity to be here."
While the Hartford, Connecticut native has only been with the team for just over a week, his adjustment to his new teammates and coaching staff has gone well.
"Everyone's treated me really well. It's a good group of guys, a good young team. The coaching staff is good. They're teachers and they want to see the guys do well so I think it'll be good for me here.
"They also seem like a very professional group, so I feel like they know how to do things right - even with having so many young guys here on the team. I think it's made it an easy adjustment for me."
And while MacDermid does provide a great deal of toughness for the Heat, head coach Troy G. Ward is looking for the former Boston Bruins pick to play a well-rounded game.
"I think he's going to provide a bit of a spark for us in that area and bring some toughness," said Ward, "but I've made it clear to the team that I don't think he's supposed to do the dirty work. Just like I don't think if Zach McKelvie was playing that he'd be doing all the dirty work. I think we still have to do that by committee.
"So I'm hoping to get Lane in the situations where he's killing penalties, he's playing a regular shift and whenever [Calgary] feels it's time for him to go up, he'll go up. So it's more about his overall development, but I think he will provide us some toughness for sure."
Chad Billins is as unselfish as they come and nothing embodies that selflessness more than the scoresheet.
The savvy offensive defenceman leads all AHL rearguards in assists with 15. Of his 15 helpers, 10 of them have been of the primary variety. It's safe to say that the undrafted Ferris State product is the offensive catalyst on the back end for the Abbotsford Heat.
But to Billins, his offensive success this season is merely an extension of his team's scoring prowess.
"It's just the guys on this team," Billins said Thursday after practice.
"Everyone's working hard together and it helps that the power play is clicking, so I think it's just an attribute of the guys on the team. Everyone's getting points, scoring goals and playing good defence."
Yet, despite Billins' modesty it's no small feat to be a point-per-game defenceman in the American league. Currently, he sits second in points by a defenceman and seventeenth in overall scoring.
SCORING AT WILL
It was uncertain at the beginning of the season where exactly the goals would come from on the Abbotsford Heat. Not because the roster lacked offensive talent, but because no one was certain how long it would take for the first-year pros to get acclimated to the professional game and how their success at the junior level would translate.
Now about a third of the way through the season, goal scoring hasn't been an issue. In fact, the Heat have scored the most goals in the AHL and currently sit sixth in goals for per game.
"I think that's been our biggest strength," reasoned Ward. "That's the one thing that's been exposed is that it's development by committee."
Perhaps the biggest difference between this year's Heat squad and previous years has been a lack of reliance on two or three players for offensive output. Instead, the Heat have grown together and have learned to score as a unit.
"Sometimes when you don't have some higher profile guys around, everyone feels like they have to be on their 'A' game and chip in. We don't have to count on a Krys [Kolanos] or someone like that, Ben Walter gets a couple of goals and we win. So the group as a whole has been scoring by committee, which has been really positive."
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