Heat Report: 12.03.12
A weekly look at the Flames number one affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat
The Abbotsford Heat played four games last week at home, wrapping up a six-game home stand.
They went 2-3-0-1 against two West Division foes in the Texas Stars and Houston Aeros and potential playoff opponent the Peoria Rivermen.
Last Tuesday morning the Heat opened up the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre early, playing a game in front of over 5,800, many of which were students who were not at school due to the B.C. Teachers Federation’s strike last week. The game was a spectator’s delight but a coach’s nightmare. The Heat blew leads of 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 and fell behind 5-3 in the third period before coming back to take a 6-5 lead heading into the final minute. However, Houston (Minnesota Wild affiliate) tied that game with 23 seconds remaining and won the game in a shootout.
The next night the Heat and Aeros got back at it and this time the Baby Flames came out on top. Akim Aliu had two goals and Leland Irving played one of his best games in a long time.
Over the weekend Abbotsford hosted Peoria (St. Louis Blues affiliate) and the Rivermen were poor guests, notching back-to-back wins at the AESC, beating Abby 4-1 and 5-0.
“They were capitalizing on every chance,” said Heat defenceman Clay Wilson. “Every scoring chance they scored. It was the opposite of what we had going. We had a couple chances and we just couldn’t bury them.”
The Rivermen also defeated the Heat in Peoria twice in February, both 4-3 shootout decisions to go 4-0 against the Flames farm franchise.
The Abbotsford Heat were fourth-place in the Western Conference as recently as Friday. Since the losses to Peoria the Heat have fallen to seventh in the race. As of Sunday evening the fourth through the eighth spots were separated by just one point, and three-through-10 buy just five points.
The Heat will embark on a four-game road trip through the state of Texas, beginning Tuesday.
“The good thing about this league is we have a chance to bounce back in three days,” said Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, who had two fights in Sunday’s game, giving him four on the home stand. “It’s a long road trip. It’s a good opportunity for us to get back to where we want to before the playoffs.”
Leland Irving was recalled by Calgary Flames on Feb. 29 to play just one game against the Anaheim Ducks and was sent back down to Abbotsford on March 3rd. Though anyone would relish the chance to play any NHL games, going back and forth between clubs can take a toll on a player, both physically and mentally.
Head coach Troy Ward talked about it after Irving’s last win Wednesday night.
“One of the things he goes through is the trials and tribulations of going up and going down,” said Ward. “The asset of the whole thing is he gets to play more games, to a certain extent. But the down side of that is just managing your life. When you travel with Calgary you’re in a charter. That’s not the hardest life in the world. You go through your own security. When you travel with the Heat you’ve got to go through airports. So when he gets sent back from Anaheim, or wherever he is at the time, it’s taxing. He felt he was a little off [Tuesday morning].
For the first time in his life he’s had to manage it. Then he comes home and him and his wife are back together and everything tries to fall into place. We forget those things in life. As he’s settled back in here I think his game is starting to come on. That was as well as a game that he’s played in a long time. At the end of the day however many games he plays here, if he plays one or two more games in Calgary, whatever they decide to give him, but he gets two more wins
In late December Akim Aliu was moved to the Abbotsford Heat by the Winnipeg Jets, loaning him for the time being.
When he was formally traded to Calgary in exchange for teammate John Negrin it helped the Nigerian-born forward mentally settle down in B.C.`s Fraser Valley.
“It helped me out a tonne when they finally traded for me,” said Aliu after his two goal game Wednesday. “It made me feel like part of the team. They reiterated their confidence in me moving forward.”
What has made him feel more comfortable is the atmosphere in the dressing room, where veterans and rookies intermingle instead of keeping to themselves like other organizations.
“It’s the best group of guys I’ve been around,” said Aliu, who has had 10 scenery changes in the OHL, ECHL and AHL since 2006. “I was around a really good group in Peoria last year too, but…the leadership’s unbelievable here, all the way down to our young guys. The biggest thing about this team is…everything is…as a team. Everyone’s real close. That helps us out a tonne when we get on the ice.”
He was a point-a-game player in last two junior seasons with London and Sudbury but he’s had trouble consistently using his large 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame to put up offence. When he came to Abbotsford, he was given a new role that he has both embraced and is beginning to master.
“I was told I was going to be a checker here, go against the other team’s top lines with mostly [Quintin] Laing – I’ve been on his line the whole season,” said Aliu. “He’s helped me out a tonne. Obviously his veteran status and he’s just so smart out there. I’m real grateful to him.”
“He’s proven in this league with some other teams…and by his status as a second-round guy that he can score,” said Abbotsford head coach Troy Ward. “The neat thing that maybe people don’t understand is that now he’s doing it in a third-line checking role. He’s scored nine goals as a checker. That says a lot about his development.”
Author: Alex Joehl