Heat goalie Reto Berra keeps his eye on the puck during Tuesday's practice as defenceman Brady Lamb attempts to clear it from in front of the net.

Heat goalie Reto Berra keeps his eye on the puck during Tuesday's practice as defenceman Brady Lamb attempts to clear it from in front of the net.

Abbotsford Heat season preview: 2013-14 will be a trial by fire for talented young squad

The Abbotsford Heat have what will surely be one of the league's youngest teams, but there's a sense of optimism about the youngsters

The Abbotsford Heat are embarking on the 2013-14 American Hockey League regular season with what will surely be one of the league’s youngest teams, and local fans could be forgiven if they felt they’d seen this movie before.

Back in 2010-11, the franchise’s second season in Abbotsford, the Heat went with an extremely youthful roster under then-coach Jim Playfair. The team managed to stay in the playoff race until the final week of the regular season, but they finished dead last in AHL goal-scoring as youngsters being counted on to produce – remember Bryan Cameron? – didn’t.

This season, peach fuzz is once again predominant at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre, but there’s a greater sense of optimism. The NHL parent Calgary Flames are rebuilding, and the consensus is, the quality of prospects in Abbotsford this fall is far higher than in 2010-11.

“This is a much deeper group, for sure,” said Heat head coach Troy Ward, who was an assistant under Playfair in 2010-11. “This is good as we’ve felt with our young players.”

FORWARDS

The burning question facing the Heat this season is, who’s going to put the puck in the net?

Over the summer, the team waved goodbye to their franchise leaders in goals (Krys Kolanos) and assists/points (Ben Walter), and they were not replaced by similarly seasoned players with track records of point production in pro hockey.

It’s worth noting, though, that even with the likes of Walter and Kolanos in the lineup last season, the Heat still struggled to score – their 171 goals ranked 29th out of 30 AHL teams. So there’s really not a lot of downside in seeing what the youngsters are capable of.

“This is definitely a different group than a year ago, and I think our scoring, hopefully early, will be by committee,” Ward said. “We might have four lines who can score.”

At Tuesday’s practice, the Heat’s de facto top line featured centre Max Reinhart flanked by speedsters Paul Byron and Roman Horak (pictured right).

All three have offensive ability. But none of them, during their tenures with the Heat, have proven to be the type of bellwether scorers who can carry a team offensively over the course of a season.

Horak, for instance, was white-hot out the gate last fall, scoring 10 goals in the Heat’s first nine games, but he mustered just six more over the next 50 games.

The third-year pro from the Czech Republic is still just 22 years old, but he’s cognizant that on this young squad, he’ll be looked upon as one of the key catalysts.

“I’ve got to produce – I’ve got to bring something more than I brought last year,” he acknowledged.

“To be consistent, you’ve just got to bring it every night. It’s not just my problem – there are a bunch of guys who one game they’re awesome, and the second game you can’t even see if they’re on the ice.

“It’s something you learn with age and experience, and obviously this is my third year – the last year of my entry-level contract – and I need to show what I can do. If it’s here or in Calgary, I’m going to bring it every night and be my best.”

There’s a large group of forwards heading into the first full pro seasons – including Corban Knight, Michael Ferland, Josh Jooris, Ben Hanowski and Markus Granlund (currently injured) – and it will be fascinating to see which of them take advantage of the opportunities they will surely be presented with.

“I’m hoping we get some good, timely goals out of the young group, and that we get some consistency out of the Byrons and Horaks and (Carter) Banckses,” Ward said.

DEFENCE

The Heat’s defensive corps – potentially the team’s greatest strength – is an intriguing mix of experience and potential.

As for the former, Mark Cundari and newcomer Chad Billins have proven to be proficient point-producers at the AHL level, while Abbotsford native Dean Arsene (who is on a 25-game professional tryout contract) supplies a nice blend of grit and leadership – the 33-year-old has captained four previous AHL clubs.

Additionally, Chris Breen, the Heat’s all-time leader in games played (204), will further bolster the blueline brigade when he returns from shoulder surgery.

But how the Heat fare on the back end will ultimately rest on how quickly a trio of prized rookies – Patrick Sieloff, Tyler Wotherspoon and John Ramage – adjust to the pro game.

“Our job is to make sure these three young kids play all the time . . . and they will,” Ward said.

“It’s a good group by committee, but we’re young. When the live bullets fly, there’s going to be some mistakes by the bottom three.

“I would like our D-corps a little bit more if we had Breen. If I can throw Breen out there with Billins . . . it lessens the load on everybody else. We’re missing that big, stable guy. If it’s not Chris Breen, it’s got to be somebody else. If it’s Dean Arsene, it’s Dean Arsene.”

Sieloff, who lasted in Calgary Flames training camp until the bitter end, will be one of the youngest players in the AHL at age 19.

“I’ve got to just keep playing like I was playing up in camp with the Flames – just have that ‘no friends’ mentality (on the ice) and come in every day to get better,” he said. “Hopefully in the end it pays off.”

GOALTENDING

The Heat’s crease situation is unique in that both their goalies are Europeans trying to really establish themselves on this side of the pond for the first time.

Reto Berra, a 26-year-old from Switzerland whose rights were obtained by the Flames last spring in the Jay Bouwmeester trade, was regarded as one of the top goalies in the Swiss-A league last season, when he posted a 3.01 goals against average and a .906 save percentage with Biel.

Joni Ortio, a 22-year-old Finn, struggled during an abbreviated stint with the Heat in 2011-12, but is coming off a terrific 2012-13 campaign with HIFK Helsinki in the SM-liiga, Finland’s top pro league.

Berra, who lasted until the final day of Flames training camp before being assigned to the Heat, will get the start in the season opener on Friday vs. the Lake Erie Monsters in Cleveland.

Ward noted that with the organization’s goalie depth chart still very much a work in progress, there’s plenty for Berra and Ortio to compete for.

“We’ll go with Berra on Friday, and then we’ll see,” he said. “I’d like to get both goalies in this weekend.”

NEWS AND NOTES

• As has been their pattern the previous two seasons under Ward, the Heat will enter the season without a captain in order to give the team time to get acquainted and allow leaders to emerge. Three players – Bancks, Byron and Greg Nemisz – will wear A’s on their jerseys this weekend.

“I think we’ll go through a road weekend and a home weekend, and then maybe look at the voting (on captains) after that,” Ward said.

• The Heat’s injured list to start the season includes three players: Granlund, Steve Begin and Zach McKelvie. All three have lower-body injuries, and McKelvie is the closest to returning to game action. Begin, a 35-year-old centre signed in late August to add some veteran leadership, is “a long way” from returning, Ward said.

• The Heat’s road games on Friday (4:30 p.m. Pacific time) and Saturday (3 p.m. Pacific) vs. Lake Erie can be heard on CIVL 101.7 FM and teamradio.ca. The first home games at the AESC are next weekend, when the Milwaukee Admirals visit for a two-game set (Oct. 11-12, 7 p.m. both nights).

Just Posted

A GoFundMe campaign has been started for Heather Jensen of Abbotsford, who is battling an aggressive form of breast cancer.
Online fundraiser started for Abbotsford woman fighting aggressive breast cancer

Heather Jensen is unable to work during her health battle

Temperature records were broken for June 21, 2021. (Black Press Media file photo)
Record-breaking heat shimmered across Fraser Valley for second day

Tuesday should be a bit cooler says forecast from Environment Canada

Emil Anderson Maintenance is mowing the shoulder along Lougheed Highway in Agassiz, asking motorists to use extra caution around slow-moving vehicles on Tuesday and Wednesday. (Graphic/Emil Anderson Maintenance)
TRAFFIC: Slow-moving mowers working on Highway 7 shoulders in Agassiz on Tuesday, Wednesday

Mowing takes place Tues., Weds. between 8 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Artists featured in the BLM Social Justice Art Project at UFV are (clockwise from top left): Michelle Msami, Dona Park, Rain Neeposh and Faria Firoz.
Black Lives Matter art exhibit opens at UFV in Abbotsford

Show features the work of four artists and runs until Sept. 15

This black GM Terrain crosses the centre line and collided with an oncoming GMC Acadia in Langley, flipping both vehicles. (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Survivors of rollover crash in Langley thank Good Samaritans for coming to their aid

Collision flipped vehicle into a 10-foot ditch on 16th Avenue

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Val Litwin is the latest candidate to declare his bid for the B.C. Liberal leadership. (Litwin campaign video)
Political newcomer joins contest for B.C. Liberal leadership

Val Litwin a former B.C. Chamber of Commerce CEO

Golden Ears Mountains, captured in May 2021. (Black Press Media files)
2nd year of day passes required for entry into 5 provincial parks launches in B.C.

Pilot program seeks to protect the environment by addressing visitor surges amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Lincoln Mckoen. (YouTube)
Anglican bishop of the central Interior resigns over sexual misconduct allegations

Lincoln Mckoen was elected as a bishop of the Territory of the People region last year

The former Kamloops Indian Residential School on the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc reserve. (Allen Douglas/Kamloops This Week)
Tk’emlups preparing for archaeological work at B.C. residential school site where remains found

The 215 graves are, to the band’s knowledge, undocumented deaths for which it is still collecting records

Fans watch the warm-up before Game 6 between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens in NHL playoff hockey action Saturday, May 29, 2021 in Montreal. Quebec’s easing of COVID-19 restrictions will allow 2,500 fans to attend the game for the first time in fourteen months. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Two-thirds of Canadians say governments shouldn’t lift all COVID-19 restrictions

Poll reports Canadians who gained pandemic weight say they have gained 16 pounds on average

Paul Bernardo is shown in this courtroom sketch during Ontario court proceedings via video link in Napanee, Ont., on October 5, 2018. Teen killer and serial rapist Paul Bernardo is set for a parole hearing today. The designated dangerous offender, has been eligible for full parole for more than three years. Bernardo’s horrific crimes in the 1980s and early 1990s include for kidnapping, torturing and killing Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy near St. Catharines, Ont. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Greg Banning
Killer rapist Paul Bernardo faces parole hearing today; victim families opposed

Designated dangerous offender has been eligible for full parole for more than three years.

People look over the damage after a tornado touched down in Mascouche, Que., north of Montreal, Monday, June 21, 2021. Dozens of homes were damaged and one death has been confirmed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
One dead and extensive damage as tornado hits Mascouche, Que., north of Montreal

Damage reported in several parts of the city, and emergency teams dispatched to sectors hardest hit

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read