When it rains it pours, and the Abbotsford Heat are feeling the loss of many of its top players post-trade deadline. The Heat's winless streak is now at eight games following four losses this week to the Texas Stars and Chicago Wolves.
Tuesday morning's annual school day game saw a ruckus crowd of 6827 fans, mostly children from the surrounding Fraser Valley area, look on as the Heat were downed 3-1 by the Texas Stars.
Sven Baertschi opened the scoring with less than five minutes remaining in the opening frame on a nifty feed from Corey Locke. With just 0:39 seconds remaining in the period, veteran Dustin Jeffrey picked up his first of the season to tie it up at one apiece. Jeffrey made it 2-1 midway through the second period to give the Stars a 2-1 lead and Brett Ritchie later added an insurance marker to seal the win for Texas.
In Wednesday's rematch the Heat showed a feisty ability to claw back late in the game, but ultimately fell 4-3 to the Stars in overtime.
The AHL's leading scorer, Travis Morin, put his Stars up 1-0 at 6:53 of the first period on the power play. Just minutes later, Baertschi stayed red hot with his third goal in his last four games with some sweet passing from Josh Jooris and Locke.
The Stars dominated the second period as hulking defender Jamie Oleksiak and Scott Glennie put their team up 3-1 going into the second intermission. Midway through the final frame, Blair Jones potted his fourteenth of the campaign to bring the Heat to within one goal. With less than four minutes remaining in the game, rookie Turner Elson and Carter Bancks grinded it out down low and found Brett Olson in front to force overtime.
In the extra frame it was defenceman Cameron Gaunce who netted his third of the season and first game-winning goal in nearly two years to win it for the Stars. Olivier Roy stopped 27 shots in the losing effort. Ben Street led the Heat with six shots on goal.
On Saturday night, the Heat faced the Chicago Wolves, but were burned 7-2 thanks to a hat trick from Pat Cannone.
The Wolves took an early two-goal lead in the first period with markers from former Flames farmhand Adam Cracknell and Michael Davies. In the middle frame, Olson picked up his second goal in as many games just 0:29 second into the period to bring the score to 2-1. It was all Chicago from that point on as Joe Corvo and Cannone made it 4-1.
In the final period, Roy was pulled from the crease after allowing an Eric Selleck goal. Ben Street was able to pull the score to 5-2, but Cannone added two late tallies to down the Heat.
The Heat finished off the week against the Wolves once again. Unfortunately, the depleted lineup couldn't solve Chicago as they fell 4-1.
In the opening period, Alexandre Bolduc, Cody Beach and Dmitrij Jaskin combined for three goals in a 5:07 span to go into the first intermission with a comfortable lead. The flurry of goals chased Roy from the net as Ward opted to replace him with Dell. The Heat had a strong push in the second period. Brady Lamb, playing out of position at forward, picked up a chip off the boards, split the defence and went backhand shelf over Matt Climie's glove. In the final period, Tyler Shattock took a two-on-one feed from Cannone who made no mistake sliding it past Dell to make it 4-1.
The Heat will have a much needed week of rest to prepare for the Utica Comets who they will face at the Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre on Friday and Saturday evening.
The NHL's trade deadline typically causes quite a stir in the hockey world - a stir whose reverberations were felt by the Abbotsford Heat in a big way.
In just the last week, the Heat have had an exodus of big minute players hop a flight to Calgary to live their dream of playing in the NHL. These players included rookies Markus Granlund, Max Reinhart, Corban Knight, Joni Ortio, Ben Hanowski and Tyler Wotherspoon, along with veteran netminder Joey MacDonald.
It would be reasonable to make excuses for the team's sudden lack of wins, but Ward and his players are refusing to submit to excuses.
"It's been tough," said Bancks. "We've had guys going in and out of our lineup, but we can't make excuses. We have a lot of good guys here, a lot of really good hockey players. The bottom line is we're kind of shooting ourselves in the foot."
Players playing outside of the minutes they're capable of is one of the biggest aspects of the team's tough stretch as of late, according to Ward.
"It's like parenting," Ward explained calmly. "Just be patient. Be patient. It's mid-March, we don't have our regular team, but every other team goes through it. Every family goes through difficult times. You be patient, you continue to teach and you just stay with the process.
"You guys look at the score. We're really not. We're just trying to survive and fight and claw. We're trying to rest guys in the third period that have got to play tomorrow … We've just got to survive this. I can't force the group to play beyond the minutes they're capable of playing. We don't even have Baertschi tonight. Where's Baertschi? He's hurt because guys are playing over their minutes … Those aren't excuses, those are the realities. We're never going to have any excuses."
When one door closes, another one opens, which has given ample opportunities to those who would otherwise be playing in smaller roles. The additions of tough guy Brett Lyon, winger Jordan Knackstedt, rookie defender Zach Davies and backup goaltender Aaron Dell have given them an opportunity to showcase themselves and chew up some minutes.
"That's how we look at it: as an opportunity," Ward said. "We had wonderful opportunities from Brett Lyon to Jordan Kremyr to Turner Elson in a checking line role. We had guys all over the ice that don't normally play in those spots, and what a wonderful opportunity."
Until players begin to trickle down from Calgary, the Abbotsford Heat will look to make the best out of their situation. They are still comfortably within a playoff spot, seated nine points ahead of the ninth placed Oklahoma City Barons.
"We'll just chip away," Ward told reporters. "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. We're just going to chip away. It's where we're at. We'll just deal with it."
OBSERVING FROM ABBY
All is not doom and gloom for the Abbotsford Heat players and coaching staff. In fact, there's been a sense of excitement the last several days.
Whenever a player is recalled to the Calgary Flames, there's a familial pride felt throughout the dressing room that it was a team effort that helped get that player a promotion.
"We talk about it. We're kind of losing, but we're also kind of winning," said Ward.
"That's the way the team looks at it too. Every one of those guys that's up is a reflection of the guys in our room. They maybe would not have been there had we not had the season we've had to this point, even in the skid we're in.
"There's a lot of guys that are just super excited for Corban [Knight], Rhino [Reinhart], Wotherspoon got an assist last night, they're super excited for that … In general, they've won some games up there and those guys have had an impact on their team a little bit, similar to what we had last year … We're proud of those guys that are playing really well for Bob [Hartley] and his staff. We take a lot of pride in that."
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