(With the Heat set to move on to round two, PbP man and friend of the site Ryan Pinder stops by to give us the low-down on the team and their impressive first round sweep.)
By Ryan Pinder
The Abbotsford Heat open the second round of the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs on Tuesday night in Toronto with Game 1 of the Western Conference Semi-Final best-of-seven series. Let’s look back to see how the Heat advanced to the second round and see if that doesn’t lend some insights into what we can expect against the Marlies.
KOLANOS THE KATALYST
Krys Kolanos’ offensive successes and the Heat’s fortunes have seemed to be intrinsically connected all season. When Kolanos scores somehow it is infectious – other players score more and the team wins more. In his 47 games played in the regular season Kolanos potted nine ‘first goals’ of a game, and the Heat went 9-0-0-0 in those contests.
After closing the season with a franchise record seven wins in a row, the Heat swept the Milwaukee Admirals in the opening round best-of-five series to stretch their streak to 10 consecutive wins. Also impressive is that the club hasn’t lost a game in regulation or overtime in their last 12 matches (they lost in a shootout to Chicago way back on the 29th of March). It’s not a coincidence that Kolanos has posted a filthy stat line of 11GP (15G-11A-26PTS with a +13) over that dozen game run – he missed one game when he elected to sit out the meaningless regular season finale.
Kolanos has been playing the left side with speedster Paul Byron and Dustin ‘Sly’ Sylvester who have seemingly eclipsed Jon Rheault and Ben Walter as most productive compliments to the 30-year-old sniper – and thus the most dangerous line assembled this season. Byron’s speed, Sylvester’s vision, and Kolanos’ finishing abilities have given opponents fits since being assembled in March. A productive Kolanos is good for business. If he continues his 2+ point per game pace, you have to like the Heat’s odds in Round 2.
The Heat are the envy of many an AHL team with the goaltending tandem that has developed this season. Not only does the club have 2010 team MVP and Flames top goaltending prospect Leland Irving at their services, but also the feel-good story of Danny Taylor. The duo each finished the season with 22 wins, and split the Heat crease time almost exactly 50/50.
Two months into the season Irving was arguably the MVP of the AHL. Flirting with a record wins pace, leading the league in minutes played, shootout wins and near the top in shutouts.
Enter Danny Taylor – just released from a tryout from the Springfield Falcons in his first year back from Europe – and a healthy dose of an unhealthy Henrik Karlsson (see what I did there?) and the universe changed. Irving spent the better part of three months with Calgary, eventually earning the back-up job even once Karlsson was healthy, which required the club to exercise numerous post-trade deadline recalls to use him when Kipper needed a rest.
While all this was going on, Taylor was amassing big minutes in Abbotsford, and just to make matters more murky, when Irving was eventually returned for good, he welcomed his first child – a daughter – into the world with his wife. The 2012 portion of the schedule has been a mental obstacle course for Irving, adjusting to two hockey teams and sustaining even MORE travel than the Heat are already subject too as the lone team in the Pacific or Mountain Time Zone. All that, plus becoming a parent. Big stuff.
So when Taylor got hot, and Irving was away from the team in the final weeks, the job became Danny Taylor’s to lose, and he hasn’t lost since – eight wins in a row. While Irving’s ceiling as a 24-year-old is likely much higher, Taylor is the man of the moment, and if it ain’t broke… well, you know the expression. If the Heat get into a long series, the use of both net-minders wouldn’t surprise me one bit, but clearly Taylor’s winning streak is one that has to carry weight when penning a line-up card.
WARD HAS DEPTH
The Heat find themselves as deep as they’ve ever been all season, and quite likely ever in their three year history. The mid-season attrition to the roster saw Akim Aliu, Hugh Jessiman, Adam Estoclet and others brought into the fold to stop the bleeding, but now relatively healthy (Laing was day-to-day at last check), and boosted by the addition of Max Reinhart (Kootenay – WHL) and Nick Tuzzolino (Utah – ECHL) the club suddenly is sitting players who were logging big minutes in Jan/Feb when the roster was at it’s thinnest.
The depth means Troy Ward has some big time versatility to his roster – Carter Bancks, Ryan Howse, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, Adam Estoclet, Guillaume Desbiens, David Eddy and Quintin Laing are all parts that can be used to change the dynamic of the club’s fourth line be it ‘harder’ or more skilled that is desired by the first year head coach who has this group all on one page despite the large number of bodies that have to watch from the rafters. There’s a large amount of skill and sandpaper in the aforementioned group.
Akim Aliu and Max Reinhart were swapped for Game 3 of the first round series, and with Aliu on the sidelines Reinhart looked the part. The oldest of three brothers who all may play in the show some day centered Greg Nemisz and Hugh Jessiman in Abbotsford in the series clincher. Max continues to get rave reviews away from the puck – which isn’t supposed to happen to a kid who’s played just two pro games.
The AHL only allows a maximum of six veterans and exempt veterans into the line-up in each contest. Either five vets and an exempt veteran or four and two, are the formations that the Heat have used nearly every game this season. The veterans are Krys Kolanos, Ben Walter, Brett Carson, Clay Wilson, Quintin Laing, Hugh Jessiman, and Raitis Ivanans, while the exempt veterans are Guillaume Desbiens and Joe Piskula. Only six of the nine (5 and 1, or 4 and 2) can suit up in any game. It’s an extremely unusual situation for Troy Ward to manage, but the result is that competition among veterans (and exempt vets) has kept their production very high, and if one is injured or not playing well, there’s a difference maker that can be inserted.
For example, when Captain Quintin Laing was injured in Game 1, Guillaume Desbiens – an alternate captain who can bang and crash with the best of the – stepped in and the drop off was negligible. A roster this deep is the envy of many a coach in the AHL. Certainly Ward has to make sure there are no bruised egos, but if he does, he’s got top caliber replacement parts. Brett Carson hasn’t played yet in the post-season as a casualty of the numbers game but could easily be playing 20-plus minutes a game should the dynamic of the veteran juggling change.
The Maple Leafs farm team, the Toronto Marlies is the Heat’s opponent in round 2. They also swept their first round versus the Rochester Americans and should prove to be a difficult challenge for Abbotsford. Check out a full preview of their upcoming series.