It took just over 30 minutes for Svensanity to set in at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
Sven Baertschi, the Calgary Flames’ prized young sniper, made his AHL debut on Friday and took about a period and a half to acclimatize himself.
Then he took over midway through the second period, authoring a goal and an assist in highlight-reel fashion as the Abbotsford Heat beat the Peoria Rivermen 4-1 on the opening night of the regular season.
“I was a little nervous at the start, but I thought that was normal,” Baertschi, 20, said afterward. “I really couldn’t make plays at the start, but after the first period, I got really used to it. I had some time on the power play, got a feel for the puck, and after that, it went well.”
As much fun as Baertschi was to watch, he wasn’t even the Heat’s best player on Friday. That distinction went to goalie Danny Taylor, who picked up right where he left off in last year’s playoffs, turning aside 24 of 25 shots.
Taylor had to be sharp early, as a roughing penalty to Akim Aliu and a delay of game call on T.J. Brodie gave the Rivermen an extended five-on-three power play.
The Heat keeper was up to the task, making a series of tough stops to keep the Rivermen off the board.
Peoria, with a 3-0 edge in power plays, would out-shoot the Heat 14-4 in the first, but Abbotsford managed the lone goal of the frame. Max Reinhart threw the puck in front of the net, and Ben Walter chipped it past Rivermen goalie Jake Allen at the 10:47 mark.
Early in the second period, Roman Horak made it 2-0 Abbotsford, pouncing on a loose puck and swatting it home.
Then it was Baertschi’s time to shine.
On the power play, the Swiss winger showcased his vision, whipping a slick cross-ice pass to Ben Street, who scored on a one-timer.
Shortly thereafter, Dustin Sylvester stole the puck at the Rivermen blue line and poked it to Walter, who pushed it ahead to Baertschi, who had been trailing the play. All alone in front of Allen, Baertschi undressed the Rivermen goalie with a deke to the forehand to make it 4-0.
Taylor, meanwhile, was holding up his end of the bargain, stopping Andrew Murray on a partial breakaway and then stoning Derek Nesbitt on the rebound.
Anthony Peluso spoiled Taylor’s shutout bid at 9:02 of the third, steaming down the right wing and beating the Heat keeper with a low wrist shot. But that was the only puck the Rivermen were able to squeeze past him on this night.
“I thought Danny just picked up where he left off last spring,” Heat head coach Troy Ward said. “He’s been that way all camp, and that’s obviously why he got the start.”
As for Baertschi, Ward said the Swiss phenom hadn’t necessarily been lighting the world on fire during training camp.
“He’s been quiet, to be honest,” he said. “He hasn’t been dominant at all. That’s not a negative – he’s just been very unassuming. I thought his game kind of looked like that the first half (on Friday). I thought he looked a little different the second half.”
The Heat’s solid performance nearly overshadowed Ward’s handling of a couple of incredibly interesting lineup puzzles.
AHL rules state that teams can dress no more than five veterans with more than 320 games of pro experience, and the Heat have six such players. Ward elected to go with forwards Walter and Quintin Laing, and defenders Steve McCarthy, Joe Piskula and Joe Callahan.
That left Krys Kolanos, the Heat’s scoring leader last season, on the sideline.
“It looks like we could talk about that question for weeks to come, because somebody’s got to sit,” Ward noted. “Obviously it’s not an easy situation. It’s my job to look at the big group, look at who we’re playing, and put out the lineup that I think gives us the best chance to win. On this particular night, he didn’t play. That’s about all I can say.”
Ward’s decision to go with Taylor as his starter in net and Barry Brust as the backup relegated Leland Irving to the press box. All three goalies are accomplished in their own right, but Irving, the Calgary Flames’ first-round pick in 2006, is the only one with a two-way NHL contract.
Ward said Friday’s depth chart was “not necessarily” reflective of the big-picture pecking order, but certainly, earning the opening-night start is a feather in Taylor’s cap.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s just me or if there are four other guys,” Taylor asserted, speaking of the Heat’s glut of goalies. “When you go in the net, you go in there with a purpose, whether it’s in practice or in games. I prepared all week like I was playing today, and I was fortunate enough to get the start and I felt good out there.”
The Heat and Rivermen renew hostilities at 7 p.m. Saturday at the AESC.
• On Friday morning, the Heat signed forward Tyler Ruegsegger to a one-year AHL contract. Ruegsegger played predominantly in the ECHL in 2010-11 and 2011-12, but was called up to the Heat both seasons, playing a total of 16 games with Abbotsford. He came into training camp on a tryout basis, and earned the deal. He skated on a line with fellow tryout signee Brett Olson and Adam Estoclet.
• Ward said the Heat will wait a few weeks before bestowing the captain’s C. On Friday, Laing, Piskula and Lance Bouma wore A’s.
• Aliu played with an ornery edge, highlighted by a comprehensive beat-down of Peoria’s Phil McRae in a second-period scrap. At the end of the game, he picked up a game misconduct for abuse of officials during a scrum.
But overall, Aliu was very effective on a line with fellow crash-and-bang winger Bouma.
“Akim and Booms are always going to play with a little reckless abandon, so they’re always going to be accompanied by some stuff going on,” Ward noted with a wry grin. “They have a private space that has a little wider perimeter than other guys. Their private space goes board to board. Ben Street’s goes like a stick length from him, that’s about it. Their mindset’s different, how those guys approach the game.”
• Attendance was 3,840 on Friday. That’s an increase on the Heat’s average attendance last season (3,545), but it represents the lowest number the franchise has drawn for a home opener. They drew 5,163 in 2009-10; 5,341 in 2010-11; and 5,450 in 2011-12.
• Over the course of their four-year history in Abbotsford, the Heat now have two wins, one regulation loss and one overtime loss in home openers.