With Abbotsford in the AHL playoffs this year, I asked PbP voice and friend of the site Ryan Pinder to give us an insiders view of their upcoming first round series.
By Ryan Pinder
The Abbotsford Heat and Milwaukee Admirals are set to open a best-of-five first round Calder Cup Playoff match-up on Friday night in Milwaukee. The Heat enter the series as the fourth seed – five points above the fifth place Admirals – and have elected to open on the road for the first two games, before returning to the Fraser Valley to close out the remainder of series.
In four regular season meetings the Admirals earned seven of a possible eight points winning both home games and one in Abbotsford, while the only setback was a shootout loss at the AESC in late October. The clubs have only played once in the last four and half months – a 4-1 win for the Admirals at the Bradley Center in Wisconsin on November 28th.
The season series was marked by strong special teams and goaltending from the Admirals, while the opposite is true for the Heat who have a much different looking roster now than they did in their first three meetings of the season. The two games in Abbotsford were low scoring affairs that were both tied at one early in the third period of play, while the games in Milwaukee were lopsided contests that saw the Admirals sport a gaudy shooting accuracy of 25% (12 goals on 48 shots), while the Heat mustered just four goals on 52 shots.
Of note, Heat leading goal scorer and point man Krys Kolanos has played just a single game against Milwaukee this season as a member of the Heat. Ditto for offensive rear-guard Brian Connelly and hulking forward Hugh Jessiman – who has potted a career-high of 27 goals this season. Akim Aliu and Brett Carson (who have each spent time in the NHL this season) also appeared just once versus the Admirals.
Abbotsford enters the post-season as the hottest club in the Western Conference riding a franchise best winning and point streaks of seven and nine games respectively. The Heat’s nine game streak saw the club earn 17 points against teams in playoff position or fighting for playoff positioning until the final day of the season.
Abbotsford’s best play of the season has been produced by the club’s deepest roster of the year as the Calgary Flames season has come to an end, injuries that plagued the middle third of the season have healed, and new additions from ECHL, WHL, and WCHA sides adjust to the AHL game.
The Admirals won two games on the final two days of the regular season schedule (their second and third games in three days) with their season on the line, qualifying for playoff action with a 6-1 win over the Charlotte Checkers on the final day of the season. A regulation loss in would have eliminated them from the playoffs.
The Admirals have the edge in recent playoff action as the club qualified for the post season last year and played 13 games before being dumped in the second round of the by the Houston Aeros in seven games. Milwaukee has 14 players who saw action in the 2011 Calder Cup Playoffs, amassing a total of 122 games, while their entire roster has 341 games of playoff experience.
The Heat failed to qualify for the playoffs last season, which was their second year of existence. Newcomers Ben Walter (Lake Erie Monsters), Guillaume Desbiens (Manitoba Moose), and Paul Byron (Portland Pirates) all suited up for 2011 playoff games, with Byron and Desbiens playing in two rounds of action, while Walter saw seven games. Overall the Heat have 327 man-games of playoff experience amongst them.
The Heat have been led by the resurgent Krys Kolanos – who set new franchise records for goals (30) and points (61) in a single season despite playing just 47 games – after missing a season and a half to microfracture hip surgery. Arriving in September on a try-out in training camp, Kolanos was inked to an AHL deal prior to Christmas only to have that contact ripped up to sign a two-year two-way deal with his hometown Calgary Flames. It’s been a career season in the AHL for the 30-year-old garnering 16 points in his first six games, and closing the season with 18 points in his last eight games.
Forwards Ben Walter, Hugh Jessiman, and the pair of Brian Connelly and Clay Wilson on the blue-line round out the Heat’s top five scorers this season.
Milwaukee is led by Chris Mueller, who potted 32 goals and 60 points in this his 4th season in the American Hockey League. Mueller recorded 104 points over four seasons with the Michigan State Spartans before starting his professional career. The 26-year-old has also played four games with the Nashville Predators this season.
Mueller is complimented by forwards Kyle Wilson, Taylor Beck, Ryan Thang, and defender Victor Bartley as the top five point producers on the squad.
The 2011-12 season has seen the emergence of a goaltending tandem in Abbotsford with Leland Irving and Danny Taylor splitting duties. Irving spent over two months in Calgary with the Flames, and became a father in late March, which lead to Taylor starting five of the last six games of the season.
The duo each managed 22 wins this year, with Taylor earning five of his wins with the Springfield Falcons on a PTO before being signed by the Heat. Taylor also garnered an impressive .927 save percentage in 33 games played while Irving settled in at .902 in 39 games.
Jeremy Smith was sterling in his three appearances against the Heat this season. Over 185 minutes played, Smith posted two wins and recorded a save percentage of .953 as well as a goals against average of 1.62. In 56 appearances this season the 23-year-old Deerborn, MI product posted 31 wins, just one behind the league leading mark of 32. Smith had the league’s fourth best GAA of 2.17 and a .922 SV%.
Both teams are among the six stingiest clubs in the AHL with the Admirals allowing 2.50 goals per game and the Heat surrendering an average of 2.64 each contest. The Heat protect leads brilliantly, winning 83.8% of games in which they score first, and posting a record of 18-1-1-2 when leading after 20 minutes.
The Admirals have found the back of the net with ease in their own building against the Heat this season scoring an average of six goals per game. Quick starts could carry major momentum for whichever team can complete the feat.
(A longer, slightly different version of this article was be published at the Heat Hub, where Ryan routinely posts worthwhile Abbotsford updates and interviews. He will keep us in the loop as the Heat move through the post-season, but make sure to check him out on his home turf)