Heat forward Greg Nemisz battles for position with Rochester defenceman Nick Crawford on Tuesday.
Walter sets Heat scoring record as Heat crush Americans
By Dan Kinvig - Abbotsford News
Published: April 03, 2012 10:00 PM
Updated: April 04, 2012 7:01 PM
During a quiet moment after an Abbotsford Heat practice last week, head coach Troy Ward spoke eloquently of his fondness for Ben Walter.
"Sometimes, I think you can tend to overlook him," Ward said of the veteran centre. "It's like, we all rely on our wives and we never give them enough credit. We just take them with a grain of salt sometimes. She's there, taking care of the kids, and I'm going to go do my thing.
"It's kind of how I look at Ben – it's the same scenario in life. We just expect him to be there and expect him to go lead us."
Tuesday evening's 4-0 triumph over the Rochester American was as good an occasion as any to pause and appreciate the understated, underrated Walter.
He's strictly substance over style, and his metronome-like consistency might only be appreciated by those who watch the team night in and night out. The son of Heat president Ryan Walter is the only player to suit up for all 71 of the team's games this season.
On Tuesday, Walter's goal at the 1:17 mark of the first period stood up as the game-winner, and he added an assist to set a new Heat single-season scoring record. He's quietly collected a team-leading 55 points (17 goals, 38 assists), eclipsing the 54 points Jason Jaffray posted in 2009-10, the franchise's inaugural season in Abbotsford.
"He's really been our anchor," said Heat goalie Danny Taylor, who made 17 saves for his fourth shutout of the season. "He's a man of few words, but a lot of the young guys look up to him. He's been hands down one of our best players all year."
The Heat, as a whole, turned in perhaps their most complete home-ice performance of the season – Rochester didn't register a shot on goal until more than 11 minutes had elapsed in the first period, and Abbotsford out-shot them 33-17 for the game.
The hosts' dominance was so comprehensive that they looked, at times, like a hockey version of the Harlem Globetrotters, with the Amerks – undoubtedly weary from their cross-continent trek – in the role of the Washington Generals.
The Heat also boosted their playoff hopes in a big way, strengthening their grip on fourth place in the Western Conference at 37-26-3-5 for 82 points. At the same time, they dealt a significant blow to the Americans (32-26-8-4, 76 points), who sit 11th.
Rochester is struggling mightily at the moment. They're on a four-game losing streak and have been shut out in consecutive outings, extending their scoring drought to 125:59 of game time.
But don't expect the Heat to feel too sorry for them.
"Every game is a playoff game now," summarized Walter, who eclipsed 400 career AHL points last week. "I thought it was one of our most complete games of the year. We scored four goals, we gave them nothing, and from the start of the game dominated and did what they wanted to do."
Walter opened the scoring early in the first period with a goal that was short on style points but long on grit. Jamming at the puck at the left of the Rochester crease, he followed it into the corner and flicked a backhander towards the front of the net, and it went off Amerks goalie David Leggio and in.
Walter created the second goal, digging the puck out of the corner and feeding Akim Aliu in the slot. He ripped a wrist shot by Leggio for his 10th goal of the campaign.
Krys Kolanos extended the lead to 3-0 in the second period, gobbling up an Amerks defensive-zone turnover and roofing a backhander.
Guillaume Desbiens rounded out the scoring at 6:18 of the third, ripping a slap shot from just inside the blue line that made its way through a screen past Leggio. It was just the third goal in 56 games for the veteran winger.
Walter is on a six-game points streak, a span in which he's posted four goals and five assists, and Ward lauded his leadership.
"Down the stretch, he seems to be the guy that wants the puck all the time," the Heat bench boss said. "There were times in the year where we maybe didn't see him or notice him as much. But this is his time as a veteran."
Ward was pleased with Taylor's play between the pipes, particularly in light of some uncertainty with the Heat's goaltending situation. Leland Irving, the No. 1 guy on the depth chart, and his wife Ashley are anticipating the birth of their first child.
Ward has told the Irvings that Leland is free to stay home when the Heat hit the road this weekend to face the Charlotte Checkers.
"This is a situation where family comes first," Ward asserted. "They're really good people. This is an exciting time in their life, and I want them to do it right."
• The Heat and Amerks lock horns again on Wednesday (7 p.m., AESC).
• After surrendering three power-play goals to the Chicago Wolves on Friday, the Heat penalty kill was lights-out against the Amerks, snuffing all six of their man-advantage chances.
Heat captain Quintin Laing tries to tip in a shot by Krys Kolanos. (John Morrow photo)