Patrick Sieloff might be the most appropriate poster boy for the 2013-14 edition of the Abbotsford Heat.
The Heat’s roster is short on pro hockey experience, but long on youthful enthusiasm, talent and potential.
And Sieloff, a rambunctious 19-year-old rookie defenceman with loads of upside, happens to be the youngest player in the entire American Hockey League.
The Ann Arbor, Mich. native is one of just three 1994-born players in the league to start the season – Stefan Matteau of the Albany Devils and Nathan Walker of the Hershey Bears being the others. But Sieloff’s May 15 birthdate falls latest in the year.
“It’s pretty cool,” Sieloff said with a grin, reflecting on the unique designation. “It’s neat to be a part of it at such a young age.
“But to me, I find that age is just a number – it’s about the way you go about your stuff. On the ice, I don’t really think about me being the youngest guy. I don’t put myself in that situation (mentally) where I have leeway or anything. When I’m out there, I fall under a 30-year-old’s rules. If I make a mistake, I’m just as accountable as an older guy.”
It’s that mature attitude which convinced Heat head coach Troy Ward and Calgary Flames management that the best course of action was for Sieloff to turn pro this season, rather than be shipped back to the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League.
“He’s 19 going on 29,” said Ward, who has been observing Sieloff for over a month, dating back to the Young Stars prospects tourney in Penticton and carrying through the Flames and Heat training camps. “He’s playing as the youngest guy in the league, but he doesn’t make you feel that way at all. His maturity is extremely high as a hockey player, and that’s what’s afforded him to be here.
“We saw that at training camp in Calgary – the guy was acting like a seasoned veteran with his attention to detail relative to stretching, nutrition, how focused he was. The thing that’s hard for kids his age is, can you do it every day? Can you be consistent every day? That’s what he does. His consistency, from Penticton to training camp to here, hasn’t wavered for one second.”
That Sieloff is allowed to play in Abbotsford as a 19-year-old is a unique situation in itself.
Most players in their 19-year-old season who play major junior hockey in Canada don’t have the option to play in the AHL – by rule, unless they’re in the NHL, they’re required to go back to junior. But Sieloff is exempt from that rule because he was drafted out of the U.S. national development program, only joining the Spitfires after the Flames made him a second-round selection in 2012.
Sieloff was a member of the gold medal-winning U.S. entry at the most recent World Junior Hockey Championship, and if he’s selected to the squad again in 2014, the Flames have stated they will release him to play in that tournament.
In the meantime, he’s focused on soaking up every scrap of knowledge from the Abbotsford coaching staff – just one week into the regular season, he says he’s made major strides in terms of stick and body positioning.
Sieloff made his pro debut last weekend, suiting up for both of the Heat’s road games vs. the Lake Erie Monsters and posting a +1 rating. The 6’1″, 210-pound youngster was paired with Drew MacKenzie, and Ward termed his performance “pretty darn good.”
“He struggled in some areas, like you would expect,” the Heat bench boss said. “But he didn’t cost us anything.”
Sieloff, a defensive-minded blueliner, is known as a huge hitter who tends to make enemies on the ice. It’s a product of what he calls his “no-friends mentality.”
“Off the ice, I’ll be the nicest guy around,” he explained. “But on the ice, I’m a different guy, be it a practice or a game. It’s the mentality of how I go about stuff, and I think it’s how I’ve gotten to where I am now.
“It’s a business, someone’s trying to take your job, and in the back of your head, you don’t want that. You do whatever you can to make them not want to go into a battle with you.”
Sieloff is wearing a full face shield, a measure to protect a broken cheekbone he sustained in a fight in an NHL preseason game. He’ll be rocking the bubble-dome look for a couple more weeks until his face fully heals.
“It’s awful,” he said with a wry chuckle, “but it’s better than sitting out.”
SPECIAL TEAMS MUST IMPROVE
Sieloff’s solid debut was just one of the many positives for the Heat on opening weekend – Ben Hanowski, Corban Knight and Josh Jooris notched their first career AHL goals, and Abbotsford out-scored the Monsters 4-2 at even strength over the course of the two games.
The special teams, though, had their hiccups. Lake Erie scored three times on the power play on the weekend, and while the Heat mustered two man-advanage goals of their own in Friday’s 5-2 win, they went 0-for-8 in a 3-2 loss on Saturday.
“When we had guys trickle down (from the Flames) at such a slow pace, we didn’t have a lot of chemistry,” Ward analyzed. “We’re trying to find it. I think we have the right people on the bus, I just don’t think we have them in the right seats.”
Among those who might find new seats on the bus are Knight and Blair Jones – forwards who played the point on the power play vs. Lake Erie.
“I thought they both did fine as the weekend progressed, in terms of their comfort and their ability to read things and make simple plays,” said Ward, who planned to devote large chunks of Wednesday and Thursday’s practices to special teams. “But it didn’t generate anything for us, so I’m not sure it’s the right place for those guys.”
FERLAND, MCKELVIE BACK
Forward Michael Ferland, who sat out Saturday’s game after being nicked up in a fight on Friday, was back on the ice at Tuesday’s practice.
Zach McKelvie, who didn’t make the trip to Lake Erie due to a lower body injury, is likewise back at practice and is a lineup option for Ward this weekend vs. the Milwaukee Admirals.
Markus Granlund and Steve Begin, both dealing with lower body injuries, are still on the shelf.
ADMIRALS TO DEBUT IN ABBOTSFORD
The Heat (1-1-0) host their first home games of the regular season this weekend, as the Milwaukee Admirals visit the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre for a Friday-Saturday set (7 p.m. start both nights). The games mark the start of the regular season for Nashville Predators affiliate, which did not play last weekend.
Hockey Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur will be signing autographs Friday as part of the Heat’s Legends of Hockey series of promotions.
HEAT TELEVISED THRICE
The Heat will make a trio of appearances on Sportsnet 360 this season, as part of the network’s 10-game AHL television package.
Sportsnet is in the third year of a five-year deal with the AHL, and will broadcast games on 10 consecutive Sundays beginning Feb. 9. The games will also be seen on the NHL Network in the U.S.
The Heat will feature in three of the last four games – their March 23 and 30 road games at the Toronto Marlies will be televised, as will their April 13 home date with the Oklahoma City Barons.
A full schedule is below, with all times Pacific.
The AHL on Sportsnet 360
Sun., Feb. 9 – Hamilton Bulldogs at Toronto Marlies, 12 p.m.
Sun., Feb. 16 – Utica Comets at Toronto Marlies, 12 p.m.
Sun., Feb. 23 – Oklahoma City Barons at Toronto Marlies, 1 p.m.
Sun., Mar. 2 – Lake Erie Monsters at Toronto Marlies, 12 p.m.
Sun., Mar. 9 – Lake Erie Monsters at Hamilton Bulldogs, 12 p.m.
Sun., Mar. 16 – Hamilton Bulldogs at Toronto Marlies, 12 p.m.
Sun., Mar. 23 – Abbotsford Heat at Toronto Marlies, 12 p.m.
Sun., Mar. 30 – Abbotsford Heat at Toronto Marlies, 1 p.m.
Sun., Apr. 6 – Utica Comets at Toronto Marlies, 12 p.m.
Sun., Apr. 13 – Oklahoma City Barons at Abbotsford Heat, 1 p.m.