Earlier in the week, Abbotsford Heat head coach Troy Ward predicted that players sent down to the Heat following Calgary Flames training camp would face a stiff mental challenge.
“You’ve got to pick them up when they get here and show them a little love,” Ward said, alluding to the inevitable letdown that accompanies being cut by an NHL club.
Brett Carson had an even steeper hill to climb on Saturday evening as the Heat hosted the Milwaukee Admirals. In addition to dealing with the disappointment of not sticking with the Flames, the veteran defenceman was seeing his first game action of the season – he’d spent the last few months in Calgary, practicing alongside locked-out NHLers.
Carson wasted little time making an impact in Abbotsford, though – he formed a solid shutdown tandem with Chris Breen, and his second-period power-play goal stood up as the game-winner in the Heat’s 2-1 win at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
“Anytime you play you want to make a contribution,” said Carson, who landed in Abbotsford late Friday night and picked up first star honours on Saturday. “It was good to get into a game, even it is down here. Obviously everyone’s goal is to be in the NHL but this is where I am right now and I have to make the most of it.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been in game action,” he added. “I was a little rusty early on but I think I found my legs later in the game.”
The Heat got off to a slow start – the Admirals registered six of the first eight shots of the game, and Heat goalie Danny Taylor had to come up with a tough left toe save off Milwaukee forward Taylor Beck to keep the game scoreless.
But the hosts found their legs a couple minutes in, and opened the scoring in highlight-reel fashion at the 9:37 mark. Ben Walter chipped the puck ahead to spring linemates Max Reinhart and Krys Kolanos on a two-on-one, and Reinhart slipped a slick saucer pass over to the Heat’s all-time leading goal-scorer. Kolanos mesmerized Admirals goalie Jeremy Smith with a nifty deke, slipping the puck between his legs on the backhand.
Carson made it 2-0 in the middle frame, ripping a slap shot from the point that may have left a vapour trail as it whizzed through a screen and past Smith.
The Admirals took advantage of a fortunate bounce to cut the Heat lead it half at 16:13 of the second. Mark Van Guilder’s wrist shot on the rush caromed off a leg and directly into the path of Kevin Henderson, and his rising shot beat Taylor.
But Taylor, who finished with 24 saves, slammed the door from that point on, highlighted by a right pad stop on a one-timer from Van Guilder in the third period.
Barry Brust, Taylor’s crease-mate in Abbotsford, was named to the AHL all-star game earlier this week, but it’s not difficult to mount an argument that both Heat keepers should have been picked. Taylor’s goals against average of 1.68 is second-best in the league, trailing only Brust (1.54).
Ward felt Taylor’s all-star snub was a “timing issue” – when all-star ballots went out, Brust had just broken Johnny Bower’s 55-year-old AHL record for longest shutout streak, and Taylor’s play had taken a slight dip.
“He’s very deserving,” Ward said of Taylor. “In general, we feel we have more all-stars than that. We were probably one of the better teams in the league the first couple months of the year, and we only have two all-stars (Brust and Western Conference captain Quintin Laing). You kind of find that hard to believe, actually.”
• The Heat (20-12-7) and Admirals (17-15-6) renew hostilities on Sunday at the AESC (4 p.m. start).