The Utica Comets have been nothing short of the Heat's Kryptonite this season. While the Heat have consistently remained among the league's best teams, the Comets have been at the opposite end of the standings.
Unfortunately, the same old story continued this weekend despite a valiant effort from the Heat where bad bounces were the name of the game.
Friday evening's tilt saw the Heat fall 1-0 to Utica in what could be described as one of the more entertaining low-scoring affairs a hockey game has to offer.
Comets' netminder Joacim Eriksson continued to make saves on what looked like sure goals. Midway through the first period, the right-handed Swedish backstop made a miraculous glove snag with his right paw to deny Markus Granlund of a top shelf goal. Later, in the second frame, Eriksson made a goal line paddle save on Sven Baertschi to keep the score at zero apiece.
At the other end of the rink, Joni Ortio was forced make similarly spectacular saves on numerous Comets chances. However, in the extra frame, Benn Ferriero put what looked like an innocent wrister on net from below the face-off circle, but it was able to find its way through a minuscule opening on Ortio.
The Heat's goaltender made 28 of 29 saves in the overtime loss, while Granlund and Baertschi led the Heat in shots with five and four, respectively.
The following night had much more scoring, but the Heat were still unable to solve Utica as they were set back 4-3 in overtime once again. Still, despite the disappointing loss, linemates Max Reinhart and Granlund put on a show for Heat fans.
Brandon DeFazio opened the scoring just 2:05 into the game, but Granlund responded with a beautiful far side, top-shelf snipe from the right circle on the power play to even up the scoring.
In the second period, Alexandre Grenier, who scored twice for the Comets, gave his team the 2-1 edge. A few minutes later, in a brilliant shorthanded effort, Granlund stole a pass and created a partial 2-on-1 breakaway along with Reinhart. Granlund fed a fanned pass to the slot where Reinhart was able to tip it just enough to get his first shorthanded marker of the season.
Midway through the final frame, Heat centre Brett Olson showed off a great individual effort by applying pressure on a backcheck, stripping Yann Sauve of the puck and roofing it shorthanded over Eriksson's left shoulder to put the Heat up 3-2.
Minutes later, Grenier picked up his second of the game on some miscommunication from the Heat defenders and goalie Joey MacDonald. In overtime, Benn Ferriero picked up his second overtime winner in as many nights to sweep the weekend set.
Reinhart and Granlund each had a goal and an assist in the losing effort. Meanwhile, MacDonald made 35 of the 39 shots he faced.
On Friday and Saturday the Heat will face the Hamilton Bulldogs. The Heat are 2-2-0-0 against the Montreal Canadiens' affiliate this season.
The Heat roster is full of new names lately, but Corey Locke could be amongst the highest profile of them all.
This week, Heat defenceman Mark Cundari was loaned to the Chicago Wolves in exchange for Locke. The 29-year-old veteran is no stranger to the score sheet. In 610 career AHL games, he has amassed an impressive 546 points.
"I found out around noon on Thursday, Chicago time, about what happened, the trade. I had to get myself together pretty quick, got on a plane and traveled all day and all night to get here. I'm excited to be here. It was a long day yesterday. Tough, but I'm really excited to be here.
"Just being in the locker room for one game, it's just a great group of guys. Young guys that want to do well and work hard and I think it'll be a lot of fun."
In his two debut games for the Heat this weekend, Locke wasn't able to pick up a point, but he was not without his chances.
Despite three years of ECHL experience, 26-year-old Evan Trupp had yet to play to an American League game. That is, until the Heat had a vacancy in the lineup and called up Aces head coach Rob Murray to seek an opinion.
"Trupp's got skill," said Heat bench boss Troy G. Ward.
"We called Rob Murray up in Alaska and said, 'Where are you at with the call-up situation? We're looking both internally in Alaska and outside of Alaska if we can't find what we need. If you feel there's somebody that is worthy, then this is the spot we need. We need a skill guy.' He said, 'Yeah, most definitely. We've told this kid he's working for a call-up, he's a skill guy, he's one of our leading scorers, he's got skill, he'll fit in with your team.' "
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Cloverdale, BC native Jordan Kremyr who has also spent three seasons in the ECHL with the Aces, but was without AHL experience. The hard hitting winger fits the mould of a energy player who can change the momentum of the game with his physicality.
"Kremyr fits in just with our desire for speed and physicality … He plays extremely hard, he lives a really good life. He's physically in really great shape, he's strong, he's a no maintenance player. He doesn't drink, he just trains hard, he's a great team guy. My M.O. while I've been here has been that we'll take character and less skill and still utilize it to our advantage if we're all on the same page on the ice. So he fit the criteria.
"Plus, I thought he had a great training camp this Fall. He did last year, but we couldn't give him a call up … I told him when we cut him to go back to Alaska, I said, 'Believe me, if we could bring you in here, you've deserved it,' and he has. He's worked really hard since he's been here."
It's been an abysmal year for the Heat's penalty kill on the road to say the least.
While the Heat's PK is fifth best in the AHL at home (88.5 per cent), that same number plummets to dead last when they're on the road (68.4 per cent). Overall, they sit third last when they're down a man (77.6 per cent).
So the bench boss came up with a plan.
"Our penalty kill hasn't been good all year. So, your best defence is a good offence," Ward said with a sly grin.
"That's kind of how we've changed our philosophy on the PK. We're going for the [shorthanded] goals right now. We got two in the last three games and we're going to keep going for them. I think we killed them all off again this weekend, but we're going to put people on their heels and we're going to come at people really hard. We're just going to go for it and play our best players."
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