There's been an offensive explosion with the Abbotsford Heat as of late. With 22 goals in their last four games, there's little wonder the Heat have won four of their last five outings.
On Friday night, the Heat downed the IceHogs 6-3 thanks to Knight's first professional hat trick and an enormous five-point outing from Baertschi.
Rockford's Mark McNeill opened the scoring at 3:05 of the opening frame. Tim Miller responded midway through the period for his first goal in a Heat uniform. Knight then scored back-to-back tallies in a span of just 1:24 to give the Heat a 3-1 edge.
Rookie Alex Broadhurst cut Abbotsford's lead to 3-2 just 49 seconds into the second period. At 7:28, Knight capped off his hat trick night from an odd angle behind the net to restore the two goal lead. Baertschi picked up his eleventh of the campaign from Shane O'Brien at 13:49. Adam Clendening scored to make it 5-3 heading into the second intermission. Baertschi sealed the win with a late empty-net goal.
Joni Ortio stood on his head, making a career-high 45 saves in the victory and was given third star honours for his effort. Despite scoring six goals in the match, the Heat had a season-low 18 shots on net.
In Saturday's rematch versus the Hogs, Baertschi scored the game winner in a 5-3 victory.
Keeping with the theme of offence, Knight, Derek Smith and Blair Jones gave the Heat a 3-0 edge to start the first period. Jones, playing in his first game back from injury, had a goal and an assist. Rockford's Garret Ross had the lone goal in the second period with rookie Ryan Hartman picking up his first professional point in just his second game.
Baertschi notched his thirteenth of the season at 1:25 of the third period, but the IceHogs made a strong push to keep it close. Clendening and Stephen Johns scored back-to-back to bring the score to 4-3. However, Carter Bancks found a wide open Brett Olson on an odd man rush who fed it into an empty-net to cap off the 5-3 win.
Max Reinhart had a career-high three assists, while Ortio stopped 23 of the 26 shots he faced, including a highlight reel glove snag in the second period.
The Abbotsford Heat will play host to the Oklahoma City Barons on Friday and Sunday, which will close out their home schedule for the regular season.
Just weeks after signing a two-way NHL contract with the Flames, Brett Kulak is all set to get his professional career going.
The 20-year-old blueliner is coming off a career year with the WHL's Vancouver Giants and his confidence is sky high as he joined the Abbotsford Heat this week.
"I just had a lot of confidence and it kind of grew from my summer training last year," said the Stony Plain, AB native. "Then I went into [Flames training] camp and felt really good, felt a lot stronger. I think my confidence just kept going over the season and I put up pretty good numbers."
In 69 games with the Giants, the Flames' 2012 fourth-rounder put up 60 points (14 goals, 46 assists), good for ninth in WHL scoring for a defenceman. Beyond individual stats, Kulak, who sported an 'A' on his jersey this season, helped lead the rebuilding Giants to an impressive 31-point increase in the standings from the previous season.
"Team-wise, obviously it's upsetting getting knocked out of the playoffs, but this season I think we had one of the biggest improvements points-wise from one year to another in the league. I thought we did really well."
Kulak leads a crop of young black aces as the Abbotsford Heat inch closer and closer to a playoff berth, and no doubt the extra depth will be an important asset in the postseason.
"I'm really excited. It's awesome," he said. "It's obviously a lot different, I have a lot to learn here. The older guys are really good though and they show me the way, they're helping me out in practice with little things, so I'm definitely really excited to be here.
"Last year was a great group of guys. Most of the guys are back here, but there's a lot of new faces. Like last year, they make me feel really welcome and they're just really personable people and they're easy to talk to, so it makes it a lot easier for me coming in."
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound defender now has six American League games under his belt. His taste of the professional lifestyle, both on and off the ice, has given him a glimpse at what it takes to become an impact player in the AHL.
"He has to pick up where he left off last year," explained Heat head coach Troy G. Ward. "He played four games for us at the end of last year. Of all the [new] guys that are here, he's the guy that should show the quickest turnaround.
"One thing he's got to realize is that he's got to do things simpler and quicker. Because he's got a little bit of poise and has some skill, he's going to want to do too much because that's what he does for the [Vancouver] Giants. We're going to try and take the fat off the meat, so to speak, and just try to simplify his game and work things a little quicker. His skill level is high, but in order to play at a higher level at this level, you've got to take a lot of the fat off the meat."
According to Ward, his play with the puck is not where Kulak's future development will lie, it's his play away from the puck, and where the his teaching will be highly focused.
"His assets are his hands and his vision, his feet. Now we're going to have to find out if he has the toolbox. You can have all the tools, but have no toolbox … It's very similar, if you take the pressure off of him, you could say he's in a very similar situation to Ryan Howse and Bryan Cameron. They're fifty-plus goal scorers, but never could play beyond that level because they had great tools, but no toolbox. That's the thinking part, the composure part, the relaxed part, how to share the puck, when to share the puck - those types of things.
"You can ride a bicycle, but I don't know if you can ride a unicycle. There's a big difference. The guys that usually make it can do both. That's what we've got to find out with Brett."
COOL, CALM & COLLECTED
At just 19 years of age, you couldn't tell that Morgan Klimchuk just came off a career year with the Regina Pats (1.3 points-per-game) or that he was ready to show and prove at the professional level. You'd expect a mixture of anxiousness, nervousness and excitement, but Klimchuk has been as level-headed as they come.
"I'm just kind of taking it in stride," said the Flames' 2013 first round pick. "You've got to go day-by-day right now. You can't be thinking too far ahead. I've just got to focus on what's going on today because practices are just as important as games here. That's something they really stress and every day you've got to make sure you're focused and ready to go, so you can't be looking too far ahead.
"He just has a good air to him. Usually first-round picks have a bit of air to them," Ward told CalgaryFlames.com after Thursday's practice.
"They're very specific, they know what they're doing, they know how to make a living, they know that, 'This is my bread and butter, I've got to go to my bread and butter.' A lot guys that get here that aren't super high picks, they try to figure out what they are when they get here.
"I think Morgan feels and understands that, 'I'm a skill guy and I've got to score and that's how I'm going to make my living.' You can sort of feel that when you get on the ice with him. He's got a bit of an air to him. 'I'm very confident in what I do, I've payed my price, I know what I'm doing out here, now let me just do my craft.'"
While the Regina native isn't eligible to play in the American League next season because of his age, Klimchuk has one thing on his mind: gaining an ample amount of pro experience to take back to the Pats or to help him crack the Flames' roster in the fall.
"I think when you go back to junior that's a big advantage," he noted, "because guys who have played in the pros know what it takes to play with these guys, execute and know the pace they play at. That's very important because it's a big step up from junior. So I'm just going to soak up anything I can to make sure, if I do go back, that I can share my experiences with the other guys."
It's been a bit of an emotional whirlwind for the Flames' prospect this past week. It started with being swept in the first round of the WHL playoffs, followed by his assignment to the Abbtsford Heat where he was expected to make his pro debut. Unfortunately that debut was set back due to a "minor injury bug," according to Ward.
"It's been a roller-coaster for sure," Klimchuk explained. "Whenever you lose out in four straight in the playoffs it's obviously not ideal and it's not a very good feeling, so that was kind of a tough pill to swallow. But honestly not even twenty-four hours after we lost out I got the call to come here and that was very exciting. It's an opportunity that I'm really looking forward to.
"I'm feeling pretty good. I think the adjustment is going well. The guys have been great welcoming me in and making sure I feel comfortable. Like I said, things have been going pretty well, but until you actually get into a game, that's when the real challenge starts. The coaching staff and the players have done a great job making feel comfortable, so it's been good."
In the meantime, Ward says there's no rush to get him into the lineup and patience is the key with his injury. However, barring any setbacks, the dynamic winger is expected to make his professional debut next weekend versus the Oklahoma City Barons.
|Back to top ↑|