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Preview: Heat vs. Rivermen - 12.10.12

Thursday, 10.11.2012 / 9:35 AM MT / News
By Torie Peterson  - CalgaryFlames.com (@toriepeterson)
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Preview: Heat vs. Rivermen - 12.10.12

ABBOTSFORD, BC -- The Abbotsford Heat kick off their 2012-13 season against the Peoria Rivermen on Friday night at the Abbotsford Sports and Entertainment Center, the first game of a back-to-back series against Peoria and the start of a four-game homestand.

NO EXHIBITION ACTION: The Heat did not have any pre-season games scheduled this fall but did play an inter-squad scrimmage on Oct. 5, helping the coaches get a feel for how their charges fared in game action.

Team White (FULL ROSTERS HERE) picked up a 3-2 win against Team Red in the scrimmage. Dustin Sylvester, Krys Kolanos and Michael Ferland scoring for Team White while Roman Horak and Jamie Fritsch picked up goals for Team Red.

"I was as interested as to how we played as a group more than I was interested in individuals," Heat head coach Troy Ward said afterwards. "I liked our team play. I liked the way we handled the puck at times.

"Each team ran a different forecheck in a different period so we experimented with some things (on Friday) to create some video situations for us to teach (this week)."

NEW LOOK ON THE BLUELINE: With the departure of Clay Wilson and Brian Connelly this summer and the additions of Brady Lamb, Joe Callahan, Steve McCarthy and Zach McKelvie, the Heat blueline will have a new identity this season.

"It's a much more mature group both mentally and physically than it was a year ago," Ward commented. "We probably have a much grittier group out of the gate than we did a year ago."

Lamb, who the Flames signed to a one-year, two-way deal in March, is youngest newcomer and is entering his first professional season. Ward likes what he has seen out of the University of Minnesota-Duluth grad and expects the Calgary native's role with the team grow as the season progresses.

"He's the type of player who will probably grow in our system over a period of time. His strengths are his character, he's physical, he takes a lot of pride playing a defensive game. He'll see quite a bit of ice, I'm sure, at some juncture during the season ... he's just going to continue to develop in his first year as a pro."

OFFENCE ON THE UPSWING: While the Heat were able to put together a franchise-best 42-win season last year, they struggled when it came to offensive production. They finished 11th in the 15-team Western Conference when it came to goals scored but with the forward group the Heat have to start the season, it is very likely the team will finish much higher.

Like the Flames, the Heat were hit hard by injuries throughout last season and several of their top offensive players missed portions of the season with various maladies. In addition to injury woes, several forwards were recalled by Calgary throughout the course of the season. If the team can stay healthy, a great number of their forwards could easily post better numbers than they did in 2011-12.

The Heat also have Sven Baertschi, Max Reinhart, Ben Street, Brett Olson, Tyler Ruegsegger and David Eddy in the mix this year. All six of those newcomers will boost the Heat's offensive depth.

"We're a year into the teaching with a lot of them so they're familiar with what we doing and how we're trying to get things done," said Ward. "At the same time, a year ago, we probably didn't have the depth that we have this year as far as a bunch of different players we can plug into different spots."

One factor to consider is that the team will be playing a slightly different style than they did a year ago due to the fact their forward group is smaller in stature than the 2011-12 roster.

"With that is going to come a little bit of maybe slowness out of the gate, especially because we haven't played a game yet," Ward cautioned. "But we'll be patient with them. They're a good group with a good skill level and we're excited about what they can do."

INJURY UPDATE: Forwards Greg Nemisz (lower body) and Paul Byron (upper body) were sidelined during training camp and there is no timeline for their return.

"It's a wait and see approach. We have two of our top six forwards a year who have not skated a day yet," Ward said. "It's disappointing in the team situation but we're all concerned about their health and how they're doing.

"Because of the depth we have here this year, at this particular time we're in hurry to get those guys back so we'll be patient."

GAME TIME: 8:00 PM MT - AHL Live