Abbotsford Heat
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Heat forward Krys Kolanos came up huge on Saturday, scoring a third-period goal and notching the winner in the shootout as Abbotsford edged the Grand Rapids Griffins 3-2.
Wesley Emms / Abbotsford Heat

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Heat ride 'one-trick pony' Kolanos to shootout victory

Midway through one of his more entertaining post-game press conferences of the season, Troy Ward referred to Krys Kolanos as "a one-trick pony."

It wasn't delivered in a malicious way – the Abbotsford Heat bench boss was merely stating what every Heat fan already knew: that Kolanos is a pure goal-scorer. Not a grinder, not a scrapper, not a table-setter.

And the Abbotsford club had, after all, just ridden that one-trick pony to a 3-2 shootout victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins – one they absolutely needed to keep their slender playoff hopes alive.

"That's what Krys does," Ward said, reflecting on Kolanos's third-period goal and shootout marker.

"There's a lot of other parts of the game where a lot of other players do a lot more than Krys does. But at the end of the day, Krys is a goal-scorer, and I thought he came through this weekend in the series like he should come through."

Ward was in a jovial mood post-game – he sipped from the ubiquitous glass of chocolate milk on the podium for the first time all season to settle a bet with an old college buddy who watches all his press conferences online.

And he was quick with the quip when asked about the Heat's defensive corps, which features one grizzled veteran in Joe Callahan flanked by five rookie pros.

"Callahan's back there with a bunch of little kittens," Ward cracked. "He's got a heck of a job to do back there.

"I mean kittens in a very nice way, you know what I'm saying? They just don't have a lot of experience back there. But I thought we played a lot better structurally."

Indeed, Saturday's effort at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre was a great improvement over Friday's, when the Heat were thoroughly dominated by the Griffins in a 4-1 defeat.

The hosts had a strong start, carrying the play for the first 10 minutes, but a pair of penalties sapped their momentum.

Grand Rapids opened the scoring on the second of those two infractions, a tripping call on Blair Jones. Griffins power-play quarterback Chad Billins did the honours with a precise point shot that found its way through a screen and past Heat goalie Danny Taylor inside the far post.

Tyler Ruegsegger levelled the score at 7:31 of the second on the power play, cutting through the slot and whipping a backhander that beat Griffins keeper Tom McCollum to the blocker side.

The Heat had been out-shot 23-14 through 40 minutes, but they mounted a push in the final frame. Kolanos, playing with an undeniable spark, boosted the hosts ahead with just over eight minutes to play, tucking in the rebound off Dustin Sylvester's initial shot.

But Tomas Tatar drew Grand Rapids even inside of two minutes later, ripping a wrist shot past Taylor directly off a faceoff in the Heat zone.

The shootout was all Abbotsford, though. Ben Walter scored five-hole on a nifty deke, and Kolanos and Jones victimized McCollum with high glove-side wristers.

At the other end, Taylor denied three of four Griffins shooters.

“I’ve got to credit our goalie coach Jordan Sigalet," Kolanos said, analyzing his team's success in the shootout. "His scouting report was that he (McCollum) drops into a butterfly and his hands are low and tight. So that leave the upper portions of the net open. If you watch it that’s what happened every time. I was fortunate enough to go [third] so I had a couple looks at it. I was blessed and able to execute on it.”

It was a night of special debuts for the Abbotsford club. Down the road at Rogers Arena, erstwhile Heat forward Max Reinhart played his NHL game with the Calgary Flames against the Vancouver Canucks, having been recalled earlier in the day. The Flames lost 5-2, but it was nevertheless a night the West Vancouver native – playing in front of a crowd of family and friends – won't soon forget.

Brett Kulak made his pro debut on the Heat blueline. The 19-year-old defenceman signed an amateur tryout contract with Abbotsford last month after his junior season with the WHL's Vancouver Giants came to an end, and he looked poised beyond his years on Saturday.

"He did great," said Callahan, the Heat's elder statesman on defence at age 30. "I said to him, it looks like he's played a lot of these so far. All our young D-men are really stepping up and taking big minutes at a time when we need them to."

The playoffs are still a long shot for the Heat (32-30-10, 74 points), who sit 11th in the Western Conference and will need to hurdle three teams to qualify for the post-season. Abbotsford is just three points back of eighth, but the problem is, they have just four games remaining, while the teams they're chasing have at least two (and as many as four) games in hand.

ICE CHIPS:

• The Heat wrap up their home schedule next weekend, taking on the Toronto Marlies on Friday (7 p.m.) and Sunday (4 p.m.) at the AESC.

• Heat goalie Leland Irving returned to the lineup on Saturday, albeit as the backup to Taylor. He'd been sidelined since March 12, when he underwent elective surgery.

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