You have no doubt become aware of this, yet I still feel it necessary to warn you that the hockey team you follow is terrible. Languishing low in the league, Vancouver, despite its stated intention of competing for a playoff spot, seems instead destined to once again offer its fans the cold consolation of a lottery pick.
Longtime followers of Pucked in the Head might remember that we started out as a podcast called Bernier is a Turd. That was back when Steve Bernier was an overpaid roster spot holder for the Vancouver Canucks. We frequently complained that Mr Turd was a sorry excuse for a hockey forward, and accused him of being a garbage goalmonger of the very worst sort. “He can only score if he’s standing in the crease,” we lamented, “and only then, with no goaltender between him and the goal line.”
Turns out we were half wrong.
Bernier now plies his trade in the American Hockey League, for the New York Islanders affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers. As the Hartford Wolf Pack pressed to tie a 3-2 game late in the third period, our man Steve lay down, angling his shin pads just so, to block a point shot from Ryan Graves. The puck bounced, ricocheted, rebounded, even caromed the length of the ice into the Hartford net. There was indeed no goaltender, as the Pack had opted for an extra attacker. But we admit — Bernier can, indeed, hit the net from outside the crease.
With the exception of four games during the NHL lockout, the Battle of Alberta had never managed to inspire box office success in the Fraser Valley. Last weekend saw a minor uptick, with the official attendance landing just north of 5,000. Sadly, the team’s average this year was nearly two grand fewer than that, which puts the City of Abbotsford on the hook for millions of dollars of guaranteed revenue support to the team. So yeah, instead of paying an uncertain sum at the end of each season for the next five years, Abbotsford will fork over $5.5 million here and now to have the team just… go away.
Does it matter that the Heat are on their way to the post-season? Is it important that blame can be thrown at everything from poor marketing to even worse public relations, from to smalltown politics to a bizarre, small-minded Canucks-or-nothing mindset in the Vancovuer area? No, nope, and nuh-uh. Sayonara, American Hockey League. Abbotsford City Council has homeless people to shame over here — they don’t have time for you any longer.
On the ice, the Heat have won eight of their last eleven, and hqve now tied their best-ever point total (92). With a tie or a win on Saturday, they’ll be saying adios after a franchise record under their belts. This despite sending record numbers of prospects up to the big club during a rash of injuries in the Calgary Flames locker room for extended periods this season.
The Abbotsford Heat hold their final homestand of the regular season this weekend, with games against the Oklahoma City Barons on Friday night and Sunday afternoon.
The Heat are riding high at the moment, having clinched a playoff berth after sitting out last year’s post-season. They are also celebrating goaltender Joni Ortio’s nomination to the AHL All-Rookie Team for 2013-14; Ortio has been a revelation in the Heat crease, netting 24 wins and two shutouts in just 34 games played. As well, left winger Sven Baertschi has knotted seven points in two games against the Rockford Ice Hogs last week, earning AHL Player of the Week honours.
The Barons have just four wins in their past ten games, and have lost four of the last five meetings with Abbotsford. This weekend marks a return for former Heat forward Roman Horak, who is the Barons leading scorer this season.
With five games left, the Heat sit in fifth place in the Western Conference, and are almost guaranteed to open the post-season against the St Louis Blues affiliate Chicago Wolves.
For those interested in ye olde arena foode, Friday night’s game features 3-2-1 pricing on beer, hot dogs and soda; if prizes are your thing, Sunday’s home finale offers fan appreciation giveaways, including jerseys and a freaking car.
The Abbotsford Heat beat the Hamilton Bulldogs by a couple of field goals on Friday night, taking the first of back-to-back weekend games 6–0 in front of an appreciative crowd at the AESC. Blair Jones scored twice in his first game back from injury, while Corban Knight got off the schneid with a two-goal, three-point performance of his own after collecting just two assists in his previous nine games. The Heat went 2-for-5 with the man advantage, and obviously had a perfect night on the penalty kill.
The Utica Comets took consecutive overtime wins off the Abbotsford Heat this past weekend. Sadly I don’t have time to write anything pithy about the Heat’s current scoring woes (16 goals during three wins and seven losses in 2014), or Utica’s recent dominance in head-to-head matchups (six losses in a row and counting).
If there were time, it would be easy to point to Heat goaltender Joey MacDonald’s comical giveaway behind his own net on the tying goal late in the game, or to defenseman Chris Breen’s stick snapping in half at the opposition blueline, directly leading to Benn Ferriero’s game-winning goal.
But there isn’t. So after the jump, I’ll just share my Heat – Comets photo gallery.
At 17-6-1, the Abbotsford Heat sit atop the American Hockey League standings. Two of those losses came in back-to-back home defeats to the league-worst Utica Comets last weekend, so it’s fair to say the home team will turn up the heat on West Division rivals the San Antonio Rampage on December 6 & 7.
Friday is the annual Teddy Bear Toss, so here’s hoping a spirited bunch show up to rain stuffed animal goodness upon the ice. (Bring a new, unwrapped bear to the rink, and toss it over the boards when the Heat score their first goal of the night. All toys are gifted to the Abbotsford Christmas Bureau, an organization that helped more than 3,500 children during the holidays last year.)
Perhaps that goal will be scored by Ben Street, this week named the AHL Player of the Month for November 2013. Street scored 11 goals and added 8 assists in 15 games, a big reason the Heat rattled off a franchise record 12 wins in the month.
As for the opposition this weekend, local hockey fans will likely recognize Ryan Whitney, a 10-year veteran of NHL action with the Penguins, Oilers, and Ducks. Also of note: Steve Pinizzotto, who had a cup of coffee with the Vancouver Canucks after the lockout.
The Abbotsford Heat find themselves worrying about the Vancouver Canucks affiliate Utica Comets.
They don’t need to concern themselves with a 3–2 decision to the lowly Comets on Friday night. Even after the loss, the Heat have won eight of their last ten games and sit in first overall in the AHL standings. The Comets, for their part, picked up just their fifth win of the year, and would not have done so without some serious heroics on the part of their goaltender. Under siege most of the night — including a third period that saw the Heat outshoot the Comets 13–2 — Joe Cannata made 35 saves for unanimous first star honours.
No, the Heat this season haven’t had to wring hands as they’ve done in the past about the number of pucks hitting the backs of the net. What they have worried about, though, is the ever-dwindling number of bums in seats at the Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre.
The Abbotsford Heat took three of a possible four points in their home opening weekend, splitting extra time results with the Milwaukee Admirals on Friday and Saturday nights.
Six-foot four goaltender Reto Berra backed the Heat to a 3–2 decision on Friday, thanking Corban Knight for ending things 1:58 into overtime. In turn, the Admirals rode 6’5″ netminder Magnus Hellberg to a 2–1 shootout win on Saturday.
It was a familiar refrain of sorts of the Heat, who spent much of last season splitting double headers they probably should have taken outright. The Heat came out of the second intermission on a mission, breaking the zero-zero tie just 41 seconds into the third on Roman Horak’s first of the season. They carried the play for most of the period, but squandered consecutive power plays before giving up a late tying goal against the flow of play. It marked the second game in a row the Heat led going into the final six minutes of play but were unable to hold on for a regulation win.
Hockey Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur was in attendance Friday, shaking hands and signing hundreds of autographs; he is the latest in the Heat’s lineup of Hockey Legends to visit the Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre. The Man Who Scored The Goal That Sank Don Cherry’s Coaching Career looked great, and was great with the adoring fans who lined the stairwells for a moment with monsieur Lafleur and his blue Sharpie.
Unfortunately the Flower wasn’t enough to bring more people through the turnstyles. More than half the rink was empty for opening night, and game #2? Well, you can see for yourself: