Entering their weekend set against the Utica Comets, the Heat were riding a season-worst eight-game winless streak, but they decided enough was enough.
In Friday's tilt against the Comets, the Heat were able to snap their winless streak in a 3-1 performance thanks to a recent call-up and a struggling goaltender.
Olivier Roy, having been yanked from the crease in his last two starts, responded in a big way stopping 27 shots and allowing just one goal in the win. The young netminder looked confident and sturdy all game, showing that his last two starts were more of an anomaly than a rule.
"I felt good," Roy said after taking home first star honours. "The last week has been a rough week. We worked hard in practice this week. We worked on a lot of things so we could make my game improve and make it easier for me."
Rookie Josh Jooris opened the scoring at 12:25 of the first period on the power play as he powered home a nice feed from Max Reinhart behind the net. In the middle frame, freshly called-up centre Brendan Connolly picked up what proved to be the game-winner with just 0:12 left in the period. The 28-year-old Alaska Aces reinforcement had not scored an American league marker in 19 career AHL games, but was relieved to finally get that one under his belt.
"It's a great feeling. I've played a lot of games at the East Coast level and only about 20 games at the American league level, so it was definitely nice to get the first one. It feels really good. That net didn't look too big when I was shooting that puck, so when I saw it go in, it was definitely a good feeling."
Derek Smith added an empty netter to to put a dagger into their ugly winless streak.
Saturday evening's rematch was a different story, however, as Utica's Joacim Eriksson stood on his head stopping 38 of the 39 shots he faced to lead his team to a 3-1 victory.
After a scoreless opening frame, Brandon DeFazio opened the scoring midway through the second period. Former Heat forward Colin Stuart picked up his fourteenth of the season with less than five minutes remaining.
In the final frame, Colin Stuart once again made his mark in the game as he netted his second goal early in the third to give the Comets a 3-0 lead. Midway through the period, a struggling Ben Street spoiled Eriksson's shutout bid picking up his twenty-third goal of the campaign.
Roy stopped 31 shots in the loss while Smith led all Heat players with seven shots on goal.
The Heat will leave town for a six game road trip that starts Wednesday against the Hamilton Bulldogs, followed by a Saturday meeting against the same opponent.
NO STANDINGS WATCHING
The Heat haven't had to focus on the league standings all year, and even having lost eight of their last nine games, they're still not looking at them.
Despite it being that time of year for watching the standings, Troy G. Ward and his coaching staff are preaching a message of improving as individuals and a team instead of worrying about things outside the dressing room.
"They know they're in control of their own destiny," explained Ward. "The standings are one thing, playing individually and collectively as a group is the major issue. That's what's got to get done here. I think that's where their focal point is. The way we present things, the way we talk about things, it's basically, 'okay, it's show up time.' It's basically, like I told them before, it's, 'shut up time.' There's no sense in talking about it anymore. You've go to show up at this time of year. Good players do.
"They're so into what they have to do for their team and for themselves that I don't think they're into the standings. It's not like it's posted in there. It's not like they're looking at it every day … Effort is something that only you control. So that's really been our focus - our effort. It's just a one-on-one thing. It's you versus you."
At the AHL trade deadline the Heat made an important move to add veteran winger Tim Miller. At the time, the Heat were playing three defencemen at the forward position - not a recipe for long term success.
The 27-year-old Michigan native brings a lot to the table and will surely be an important asset if the Heat plan on making a long run in the Calder Cup playoffs.
"I try to do a little bit of everything," said Miller after Thursday's practice. "If it comes down to it, I'd say I'm a defensive forward. I like to be reliable in my own zone. I like to do a good job on the penalty kill and contribute offensively too, so I try to do a little bit of everything."
First impressions are always important and the Heat have left the former Chicago Wolves forward with a good one, specifically in terms of their detail oriented systems and relentless work ethic.
"You can tell the coaching staff cares. They've been going over systems trying to get this team ready for a playoff run. It's the first thing I looked at when I got traded, to see where the standings were. It's an exciting time of year and it seems like a good group of guys."
When asked about what he remembers of this Heat team in his time playing against them, Miller commented on one specific trait that both the Heat and the Flames are becoming notorious for.
"One thing we always talked about is that this is a team that blocks a lot of shots. You have to drop a shoulder to get around them. I remember guys just eating pucks left and right here. They play a physical game and it was always a competitive game whenever I played here with Chicago."
In 214 career AHL games, Miller has amassed 78 points, the majority of which came in his three seasons with the Chicago Wolves.
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