There’s something about playing the Texas Stars that seems to jive with Lance Bouma’s rambunctious nature.
Of the six points the Abbotsford Heat’s rough-and-tumble left winger has amassed this season, four have come in the four games he’s played against the Dallas Stars’ top affiliate.
Bouma stung the Stars again on Friday evening, banking a shot from behind the goal line off the back of netminder Jimmy Spratt and into the cage at 5:32 of the third period. The goal stood up as the game-winner in the Heat’s 2-1 victory at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
“Booms matches up personality-wise against them,” Heat head coach Troy Ward analyzed afterward, alluding to the fact the Stars boast a stable of physical forwards in the Bouma mould. “He seems to thrive in that environment, because of the way he plays and his reckless abandon at times.
“If this was the ’70s and I could take him to a bar and play bumper pool with him right now, I’d take him. Because we’d probably win. That was a heck of a shot (on the game-winner).”
Friday’s win capped a two-game sweep of the Stars (the Heat also won 5-3 on Thursday), and allowed Abbotsford (22-9-2-0, 46 points) to move into a tie for first place overall in the AHL with the Oklahoma City Barons. The Barons, one of the Heat’s West Division rivals, have a game in hand.
Texas (14-16-0-1, 29 points) remains mired in last place in the West, despite out-shooting the Heat in both games.
The Stars opened the scoring Friday with a power-play goal at 3:35 of the first, as Stephen Schultz found the puck in a goalmouth scramble and jammed it between the pads of Heat goalie Danny Taylor.
Just 28 seconds later, Krys Kolanos and Jon Rheault combined on a pretty goal to level the score. Kolanos spotted his speedy linemate streaking up the middle and hit him in stride with a pass. Rheault finished by tucking the puck inside the post on a backhand-forehand deke.
The Stars had the bulk of the scoring chances in the middle frame, but the Heat came the closest to scoring. Ben Walter’s harmless-looking wrist shot on the rush found its way between Spratt’s legs, but the puck dribbled out the other side.
Bouma’s game-winner represented the second time in two games the Heat managed to score on a bank shot from behind the net. On Thursday, it was Akim Aliu chipping it in off Stars keeper Tyler Beskorowany. On Friday, it was Bouma doing the deed.
“It’s not something we really work on, but those are goals we’ll take,” Bouma said with a grin. “I knew the goalie couldn’t get back there quick enough, so I just tried to throw it on net as quick as possible.”
Spratt, a former Calgary Flames draft choice (seventh round, 2004) who was never signed by the Heat’s NHL parent club, excelled on Friday aside from the unlucky bounce on the Bouma goal.
The 26-year-old keeper, making just his second career AHL start, said that showing well against the organization that drafted him was “in the back of his mind.”
“But more importantly, I just wanted to continue to make a good impression on the guys here (with the Stars),” he noted.
The Heat’s penalty kill came up huge in the third period, snuffing two late Stars power plays. The man-disadvantage unit killed eight of nine Texas power plays over the two games, with Schultz’s early strike on Friday the lone blemish.
“I think they were pretty disappointed with that first one,” said Ward, whose team is ranked second in the AHL on the PK with an 86.5 success rate. “It was like, they’d worked so hard to understand what the team was going to do, and they kind of felt like they gave up an easy one.
“I felt the difference in the game after the first goal was based on pressure. I thought we got to pressure areas, got on them a little quicker and didn’t give them as much time.”
Joe Piskula, reassigned to the Heat on Friday morning after spending the past three-plus weeks with the Flames, handled a heavy workload in his return. The steady stay-at-home blueliner logged 22:44 of ice time, third-most on the team, trailing only Brendan Mikkelson (24:07) and Rheault (23:34).
Piskula performed well under less-than-ideal conditions – he’d gotten up at 5:45 a.m. Eastern time to catch a five-and-a-half-hour flight from Ottawa (where the Flames played Friday) to rejoin the Heat, and only arrived back in Abbotsford in the afternoon.
“It was rough, actually,” Piskula said with a chuckle, reflecting on his travel odyssey. “It took me a while to get my game legs going, but it felt good. I’ve just got to keep building on that.”
Ward noted that Piskula had to introduce himself to a half-dozen new players when he returned – the Heat having undergone a roster makeover due to injury and recall absences.
“He was coming back to a whole different team,” Ward noted with a wry grin. “It was nice to have Joe back, because Joe’s an infectious guy. He might be one of the nicest people in the world.”
Piskula said the biggest adjustment in returning to the AHL is dealing with a more helter-skelter style of play – NHL teams play their systems so well, the play is somewhat more predictable and easier to read.
Ward concurred with Piskula’s take.
“Playing in the National Hockey League is easier than playing here,” the Heat bench boss said. “This was like a Chinese fire drill out there for that kid out there tonight. And over the last month, he’s been used to playing chess.”
• Two of Bouma’s former Vancouver Giants acquaintances, head coach Don Hay and forward Brendan Gallagher, are currently chasing gold at the World Junior Championship with Team Canada. Bouma said he exchanged texts with both Hay and Gallagher prior to the tournament to wish them luck.
• Heat captain Quintin Laing sat out Friday with a lower-body injury, with Justin Dowling drawing into the lineup in his place. In Laing’s absence, the Heat did not designate a captain; rather, Mikkelson wore an ‘A’, along with regular alternates Piskula and Guillaume Desbiens.
• The Heat now have a week off between games, before returning to action on home ice on Friday against the Grand Rapids Griffins (7 p.m., AESC).