It was hard to tell from the first day of Abbotsford Heat training camp on Friday, but this year’s team should be an improvement from the one that failed to make the Calder Cup playoffs in April.
Not like that would be a difficult task. The Heat were right in the thick of a North Division playoff race until the final weekend of the regular season, but how they got there is still a mystery considering the Calgary Flames affiliate was dead last in the American Hockey League with 186 goals scored.
It’s a stat that has been repeated, perhaps at nauseam, but nothing can be as nauseating to the paying customer as watching a team that more trouble scoring than Steve Carell.
This year’s team, equipped with a brand new head coach in Troy Ward, who took over from Jim Playfair after he resigned to take an associate coaching job with the Phoenix Coyotes, should have more sense for putting the puck in the net. This year’s team, equipped with a brand new head coach in Troy Ward, who took over from Jim Playfair after he resigned to take an associate coaching job with the Phoenix Coyotes, should have more sense for putting the puck in the net. Heat fans would welcome that with open arms and a new car; come to think of it, so would Flames fans.
“One word you’d use right away would be depth,” said Ward Friday following a quick one-hour skate, which consisted of AHL journeymen Jeff May and Krys Kolanos. No returning players from last year’s Heat team were on the ice.
“Depth and maybe maturity. Meaning the guys who have a chance to come back and play here based on what happens in Calgary, are more experienced.
“The first year guys . . . they have another year under their belt now.”
The Flames announced Wednesday that John Armstrong; Bryan Cameron; Justin Dowling; Ryley Grantham; Quintin Laing; Logan MacMillan; John Negrin; Jon Rheault and Mitch Wahl were reassigned to the AHL and would return to the Heat where they played last year, along with Ryan Howse, C.J. Severyn and Dustin Sylvester.
With the Flames still in a state of transition, it’s hard to predict who will be sent to Abbotsford and who will stick in the NHL. But looking at names like Ben Walter, Carter Bancks, Clay Wilson, Derek Smith, Greg Nemisz and T.J. Brodie – all who hold great offensive upside but are still up with the big club and could be reassigned – and the potential for a goal-scoring juggernaut is there.
Then are guys like Chris Breen, Joe Piskula, Leland Irving and Joni Ortio. As Ward mentioned, depth and maturity could be mainstays for this year’s minor league team.
Having those two key aspects will certainly allow the new bench boss to implement his new system, which he promises to be a much more aggressive brand of hockey.
“I would say [we’ll play] with a lot more pressure,” said Ward.
“That doesn’t mean that year was right or wrong, it was what it was. I’ve got my flavour and my flavour is a little more pressure orientated, it’s a puck possession game. “I don’t plan on giving the puck up, at least I hope not and if I do then I’m not a very good coach.”
It’s early days in Heat camp, with the returning players hitting the ice in Abbotsford on Saturday. The Heat then play the UBC Thunderbirds in their only exhibition game prior to the regular season opener on Oct. 7 against the Lake Erie Monsters.
For now it’s anyone’s guess as to who will come back to Abbotsford and when, which could garner more interest on how this team will fare this season. Consider it another guessing game; just one amongst a whole bunch with this Abbotsford Heat team this year.