Mark Cundari authored a pair of highlight-reel plays, but the Abbotsford Heat were otherwise smothered for much of the night by the Hamilton Bulldogs in a 2-1 home loss on Friday.
Cundari’s titanic hip check on Bulldogs blueliner Joel Chouinard late in the first period was the game’s most memorable moment. As Chouinard crossed the centre line and dumped the puck into the Heat zone, he was met by Cundari, who sent him on a surreal 360-degree, head-over-heels flight (see video below).
Early in the third period, Cundari showcased his offensive chops, hitting Sven Baertschi with a backdoor pass for a tap-in goal.
But that marker ended up being the Heat’s lone goal of the evening – the Bulldogs hung on to win behind tallies from Justin Courtnall and Christian Thomas, and a 28-save effort from goalie Dustin Tokarski.
“Their thing is being super-aggressive and taking it to us, and when we sit back and let that happen, the result is a 2-1 loss,” Heat defenceman Cundari analyzed afterward.
“They fight fire with fire, basically. They’re constantly in our face – they go too hard on the forecheck, they’re pinching their D, so it kind of gets frustrating. But at the same time, we formulate plans pre-game to counter that. I think they were pretty effective tonight.”
The Heat weren’t able to generate much offensively in the first two periods, as the Bulldogs limited them to just 15 shots over 40 minutes.
Courtnall, meanwhile, opened the scoring with a terrific individual effort at 7:13 of the first period – he beat Heat blueliner Brady Lamb to the outside, swept around the net and tucked the puck past Abby netminder Joni Ortio inside the far post. And Thomas, at 10:02 of the second, made it 2-0.
The Heat mounted a sustained push in the third period, out-shooting the Bulldogs 14-3 in the frame, and got to within a goal on Baertschi’s strike at the 3:44 mark.
They had their chances to tie – Max Reinhart and Brett Olson both had cracks at a bouncing puck in front of Tokarski with just over a minute left but couldn’t find the handle, and Baertschi whiffed on a desperation one-timer in the waning seconds.
“I thought we were just mentally slow,” Heat head coach Troy Ward said. “It was a long week (between games), and it looked like a long week for our players. We were slow mentally, that was my disappointment.
“It’s a game that required hard, it’s a game that required guts, and we didn’t have enough of that today.”
On the bright side, Baertschi, after going pointless in his first four games with the Heat, has now scored in two straight games.
“It’s important for us to get him going,” Ward noted. “He has a little bit more of a focus to him, because he dropped down from the NHL and at one particular time, maybe not too long ago, he was – and maybe still is in a lot of ways – the eyes of the franchise moving forward. It’s important that he score goals.”
Breaking down his epic hit, Cundari said he noticed Chouinard’s teammates had already peeled off for a line change, which allowed him to step up aggressively in the neutral zone.
“He went up in the air, I felt him on my back and kind of gave him a little shove upwards, and he just somersaulted,” Cundari recounted with a chuckle. “I don’t remember the play exactly – I was watching it on the replay there. But it did look pretty cool.
“I’m used to playing that physical game, and that’s kind of what I bring to the table. You don’t get highlight hits like that every game, but it’s something that pumps up the guys, and it’s a big energy boost to the team.”
• Markus Granlund and Chris Breen, both returned to the Heat by the Calgary Flames earlier in the week, were in the lineup on Friday, as was forward Adrian Foster, who was picked up from the ECHL’s San Francisco Bulls.
Foster, skating on a line with Baertschi and Granlund, notched the secondary assist on Baertschi’s goal and was named third star of the game.
Breen, meanwhile, was on the ice for both Bulldogs goals (plus Baertschi’s tally), and Ward said the fact the 6’7″ defender played just two games in the month of December showed.
Granlund’s night ended early, as he took a puck in the face late in the third period, but Ward indicated he just required a couple of stitches and will be fine.
• Ward provided an update on forward Michael Ferland’s status, noting that the sophomore pro will “be out long-term.” Ferland, who was in the midst of a breakout season, hasn’t played since Dec. 12 after suffering a knee injury during a practice.
“He’s going back to Calgary for another evaluation to see what the long-term situation is going to be,” Ward said. “There’s some swelling and there’s some things in that area that all have to sort itself out. So we’re being patient and waiting to see what happens.”
• The Heat (23-10-2) and Bulldogs (16-14-4) renew hostilities on Saturday (7 p.m., Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre).