Heat Game-Day: Game 1 vs. the Griffins

The playoffs begin tonight for a few Flames players, as the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat – Calgary’s top farm team – faces the Grand Rapids Griffins in round one of the Calder Cup playoffs! Game one goes at 8pm MT on TeamRadio.ca (radio) and AHL Live (paid webcast).

A dozen Heat players are beginning the post-season after spending some time with Calgary. (For the curious: Joni Ortio, Shane O’Brien, Derek Smith, Chris Breen, Chad Billins, Ben Street, Corban Knight, Max Reinhart, Blair Jones, Markus Granlund, Sven Baertschi and Ben Hanowski.) That could have an impact on the team’s confidence level going into the playoffs, as the Heat finally got healthy and got their groove back, winning three games in three nights on the road in Texas to cement their playoff seeding.

But can a team that’s now chock-full of Flames draft picks from 2010, 2011, 2012 and (now) 2013 turn talent into chemistry and chemistry into a few playoff wins?


The Baby Flames closed out the year winning 8 of their final 10, a product of (finally) getting some bodies back from Calgary. They were 43-25-5-3, getting off to a white-hot start and then slumping a bit in the dog days of the season when injuries and recalls made them the Abbotsford Aces for a few weeks.

Probable lines based on scuttlebutt and hearsay, mostly:

Poirier – Granlund – Reinhart
Jones – Street – Locke
Baertschi – Knight – Olson
Hanowski – Jooris – Bancks

O’Brien – Smith
Billins – Breen
LaFranchise – Kulak/Arsene


Their starting goalie is Joni Ortio. He’s been excellent in basically his first North American pro season, even supplanting Reto Berra as the #2 guy in Calgary for a bit. He’s backed up by U-Mass Lowell graduate Doug Carr, who’s in on a try-out deal. (Joey MacDonald isn’t eligible to play in the post-season, while Olivier Roy is in Alaska.)

On the blueline, the Heat have a decent mix of veterans and youngsters. Shane O’Brien and Derek Smith were demoted from the Flames to make room for other bodies, but have been key guys for the Heat – anchoring the top pairing and mentoring young blueliners. Expect to see Chris Breen, Chad Billins, and some combination of Brett Kulak, (the awesomely-named) Kane LaFranchise and captain Dean Arsene filling out the other pairings.

Up-front, the Heat got a nice injection of depth and talent with Emile Poirier’s re-assignment from Gatineau after the QMJHL playoffs, as well as Markus Granlund’s return from an upper-body injury in Calgary. They’ve been very good, earning Poirier some playoff time.

Beyond the top line, the Heat have some depth. Ben Street and Blair Jones both had NHL stints (and have been superb AHLers). Ben Hanowski, Josh Jooris and Carter Bancks are a good checking group. Corban Knight, Sven Baertschi and Brett Olson are contributing, too. There’s a decent chance you’ll see Morgan Klimchuk play, as well, but perhaps not to start.


The Grand Rapids Griffins are Detroit’s farm team. They are a gosh-darn hockey factory. They keep taking in raw players and churning out NHL talent. This is what the Abbotsford Heat want to become. The Griffins won the Calder Cup last year as a bit of an underdog (they were the third seed in the West and rode some hot goaltending, some impressive team play and some upsets of other top clubs to a Calder Cup. This year? They led their division all year…until they fell out of the spot on the last day of the season and ended up facing the Heat in the first round.

All-in-all, roughly a dozen Calder Cup winners from last year’s team are still with the Griffins.

Probable lines (guesswork based on combo from Griffins Central)

Pulkkinen – Emmerton – Frk
Hoggan – McIntyre – Tootoo
Ferraro – Nestrasil – Campbell
Grant – Aubry – Parkes

Almquist – Sproul
Evans – Fournier
Jensen – Paetsch


The Griffins have an able one-two goaltending duo of the excellent Petr Mrazek and the perfectly acceptable Tom McCollum. No slight against McCollum, but Mrazek’s just really good. Apparently Jimmy Howard has the flu, so there’s a chance Mrazek gets summoned to Detroit and McCollum starts.

On the back-end, the Griffins have 2004 Flames emergency recall blueliner Brennan Evans! Adam Almquist and Ryan Sproul anchor the blueline, which doesn’t really have as many veterans as the Heat’s, but arguably has an edge in talent. A lot of Grand Rapids’ success five-on-five has been a result of strong play from their regular blueline group. They should get Xavier Ouellet back from Detroit soon.

Up-front, not a lot of “big names,” but a lot of well-rounded players. Teemu Pulkkinen is the team’s offensive leader, and Landon Ferraro and Cory Emmerton are arguably the biggest “names” around for a bit. But the Griffins may get reinforcements; Mitch Callahan is due back from an injury by about Game 3, while Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan are due back in the event the Red Wings get eliminated. If they don’t, then the Heat get to face a team slightly depleted on their top lines, but one that’s well-coached and tough to beat five-on-five.


We know what kind of team that Grand Rapids is. We’ve been watching film on them, we’ve played them a few times, so we know what to expect. Really, in the playoffs, anything can happen, it’s like a new whole season. Just looking to worry about ourselves and make sure that we’re playing our best hockey and we get off to a good start. -Abbotsford Heat forward Brett Olson, on how the team is approaching their first-round match-up with the Grand Rapids Griffins.


The Heat have been red-hot. The Griffins are last year’s defending champions, but haven’t been playing their best and are missing several key bodies (due to injury and Detroit’s playoff run).

If you’re gonna slay last season’s Calder Cup champions, this may be the best time to do it.

  • McRib

    I’m pretty interested to see how Baertschi does. I really want to see him have an excellent playoffs. This is going to be an excellent opportunity for all the young guys.

    I think one of feasters greatest accomplishments was building the Heat into a competitive team. It will pay dividends for the flames for a long time to come (and has already this year considering how well the call ups played). Winning is contagious and once you get a taste of it you want more and more. It’s great to see!

    Hears hoping that they can put together a Calder Cup run!

  • McRib

    I have a serious question to pose to everyone at FN…

    I’m going to the game on Saturday night. I do not have any Abby gear and was planning on wearing my vintage Fleury #14 home jersey to the game. I’m unclear on the etiquette for AHL games Is this a faux pas?

    • BurningSensation

      Its considered to be ‘well meaning, but still bad form’.

      I wouldn’t sweat it unless you have $150 burning a hole in your pocket to buy an AHL jersey.

      • McRib

        “I wouldn’t sweat it unless you have $150 burning a hole in your pocket to buy an AHL jersey.”

        Especially considering that the $150 jersey would only be current for as long as Abbotsford is in the playoffs. On a seperate note I am excited to track Emile Poirier during this run I think that line of “Poirier – Granlund – Reinhart” is poised for big things this postseason.

        • Bean-counting cowboy

          I am also excited about that line… thing is, the next two lines are killer as well. Ever since Baertschi got onto the same line as Knight, those two have been dynamite together – Olson too.

          Ward mentioned in an interview with the Fan, that putting Baertschi on Knight’s line has really helped his game as Knight has opened up space for Baertschi as well as the whole right hand/left hand thing.

          And having Street and Jones on a line together is killer as well. They will likely face the heaviest competition and have been scoring leaders for the Heat all year.

          The D is also very solid and Ortio was one of the best goalies in the A all year.

          I think this team is poised to do something very special!

      • Bean-counting cowboy

        fair enough… It’ll have to be a game time decision i s’pose.

        Really excited to see Poirier and Granlund together. That line could be magic. Baertschi and Knight have been super good too. Hopefully, there are enough people in the building to give it that playoff atmosphere…

        Otherwise it’ll just be me chanting and yelling obscenities by myself… Which is basically just any other Saturday for me.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Pretty solid Heat lineup.

    Curious why Detroit would not bring up Anthony Mantha for a look during the play offs?

    Man I would love to have that guy! How many people have scored at a goal per game clip in junior?

    I don’t want to trade Gio, but if there is ever a Gio trade to happen in the next couple years, I would love to try and pry Mantha out of Detroit. Future top line RW – exactly what we need. Can you imagine a top line of Gaudreau, Monahan(or Draisaitl/Bennett) & Mantha? Tons of skill there and lots of finish.

    • McRib

      Anthony Mantha had some eye popping offensive numbers (playing on a very deep Val-d’Or team helped) and don’t get me wrong he is great offensively, but he still needs to work on defensive game as well as physicality/compete to play at next level. If he isn’t scoring he is usually not all that effective he is very polarizing.

      IMO, he is not a homerun prospect if Detroit didn’t draft him in the first it was likely he was going to slip through the first round last year, as entire scouting community felt the same on weaknesses. Fortunately for him Detroit knows how to develop players better than anyone else, but I think because of a couple holes in his game he will not be rushed to the AHL level this stretch as Detroit recognizes that and he is still in tough in the QMJHL playoffs.

      But considering he has the most offensive upside of a Detroit prospect in years, I think they are going to hold onto him, plus give me Gio anyday. He is an extremely interesting prospect though I don’t think I remember someone who was so talented offensively, yet with such big weaknesses at other end in a long time. If he was even remotely capable of playing physical/defensively his draft year he would have been a surefire Top. 10 pick, he has shown big improvement though there is a reason Detroit is the best at prospect development. They take chances on kids that deserve ones.

      • Bean-counting cowboy

        Ya.. I have also heard some of those concerns with Mantha. It’s the same think we talk about with Baertschi and I’m not saying it would be 1 for 1 on a Gio trade, but I think the kid is gonna be a heck of a sniper in the NHL some day. We could use a pure goal scorer. After Cammi goes I guess the closest thing we’ve got to that is Monahan. Dal Colle could fit that bill though!

        And like I said, I wouldn’t want to trade Gio either, but I don’t see anything else on our roster that gets the conversation started with Detroit for him. Maybe we just wait for Dal Colle!

        • McRib

          Agree that Anthony Mantha has huge offensive upside interested to see how his first season of pro hockey goes. He is someone that is either going to shoot the lights out like Ryan Strome has in AHL or struggle a bit with the pace at first. Like I said he is just so polarizing, but if Detroit is patient (they are) I think they get a 40 goal Dany Heatley type in prime.

          What actually excites me the most about this Flames rebuild is I think we are following the model of a Detroit to a T. The situation is so positive in Abbotsford with a lot of prospect depth it allows us to take our time with players and get the most out of them, competition also breeds success. Big fan of Michael Dal Colle as well would not mind one bit if we drafted him. As I have said he reminds me a lot of Ryan Johansen and we know what he is doing in Columbus at a young age. Also like everyone else though in that Top. 5 can’t really go wrong.

    • McRib

      Despite he trashers..count me in for a top RW cant-miss prospect, especially if you could throw in a good pick and/or decent D prospect(RD?).

      Would like to keep Gio 2 more years and sell high..but a RW Mantha deal would be great. Maybe Burke would also draft his 6’5″ Defenceman brother this year too.

      • dudeguybro

        Mantha + Ryan Sproul (21, RD, 6’3, cannon shot) would be a conversation starter for sure. Not sure how he’s looked tonight but the guy can QB a pp. Still, I agree on holding onto Gio until he’s 33/34.

    • McRib

      Mantha is still playing in the QMJHL playoffs. They are tied 2-2 against Halifax after being up 2-0 in the series.

      There could be a chance he gets sent to Grand Rapids if Val D’or gets eliminated next week.

  • McRib

    For me the most interesting development in the last few weeks is Prospect William Nylander’s play at the U18s. I think he is now legitimately back in the Top. 5 conversation, after struggling to get ice time on a strong Swedish Elite league team and bouncing around tier two clubs at begining of season. Wonder if there is a chance someone goes off the board ahead of us and takes him… I don’t think the Flames take him with concerns over being a premaddona and his size (Burke), but he may help drop a Bennett to us.

        • Bean-counting cowboy

          Yep. He and Hunter can go pout in the corner when the game is not going their way. Burrows will come and console them “I know how you feel guys…. I feels dat same way… I only scored like two goals last year or something like ‘dat.”

  • Brownblazer


    I’m a local guy (from the ‘wack) here near Abby, lots of people wear the flamin’ C at Heat games, wear it proud.

    I’m going tonight, really excited about that first line. I saw Poirier at the prospects tourney in Penticton and looked really good.

    I just forked out the cash this fall for a heat jersey only to have them get moved – I knew it was inevitable, but was hoping to have them squeak one more year here with all the new prospects in the flames pipeline.

  • Brownblazer

    I know it’s the wrong article but I am just so excited for the Flames to draft either Driasitl or Bennett. I think both those players have HUGE potential.

  • Brownblazer

    Now that I posted a poll question I will comment on the Heat, I actually posted something after they made the playoffs about the team and there chances. I look at these 4 lines and I think they are very similar to the one’s I posted and I expect to see Warrd roll these lines. Last week Rhino, Granlund and Poirier had early chemistry 4 pratices together might make them something special. Knight an Sven have complimented eaach other the last month and Street and Bjones have also been very good together. Upfront we should be good. the back end is full of vets and Ortio has been excellent. This should be a heck of series and if we get by Grand Rapids this group could go far. Go heat.

  • prendrefeu

    Is there any chance of watching this streaming…. fo’ frei ?
    I mean, I don’t mind watching Chicago v St. Louis, but it would be great to get in the AHL game instead.

    • SmellOfVictory

      Not from what I’ve seen. Either not enough interest or not enough capability for people to stream AHL games. Only time they were really available was during the lockout.

      • MattyFranchise

        I wouldn’t support Canucks prospects so I don’t blame them. It was a flawed proposition from the start although one that was financially beneficial for the Flames org.

        What I don’t understand is making the announcement right before the playoffs start. If Van gets some nice Spring weather you’ll see even less people there as the playoffs go on.

  • prendrefeu

    This game is, quite literally, ridiculous. Sven takes out the goalie, which eventually lead to a shot sent from behind the blue line towards an empty net, which then is stopped by a crouching defender.

    Sven looking dangerous like 24/7. Kinda scary how much potential he has.
    Poirier has had his moments, but he seems to be held ‘in check’ by the defenders marking him. When he does get a break though, he’s flying.

    Overall? The Flames prospects (on all lines, including defenders, Ortio) are looking strong. At least I believe it that way.

    The entire game has been a showcase of two goalies though.


  • Craig

    Heat dominated for most of that game including both OT’s, but Mrazek was ridiculous. 96 shots between both goalies.

    fun game to watch but Heat should have won.

  • MattyFranchise

    If your the Heat you have to believe that if you play like you did last night again that you should win tonight. Grand Rapids goalie can’t steal another game can he?