A national TV audience and 6,023 fans at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre got every last drop of entertainment value out of the Abbotsford Heat and Toronto Marlies on Sunday afternoon.
The two North Division rivals battled tooth-and-nail in a game that was broadcast coast-to-coast by the CBC, and the Marlies ultimately prevailed 3-2 in a shootout.
Jerry D’Amigo, the final shooter in the breakaway contest, was the hero. After the first nine shooters failed to score, the Marlies forward ended matters by picking the top corner over Heat goalie Leland Irving’s glove.
“I like to go full-speed and kind of put on the brakes a bit,” D’Amigo said afterward, recounting his game-winner. “He (Irving) left the glove wide open, so I just shot it.
“I’ve never been in this position before with a CBC game. It was nice, with the atmosphere and everything, and all the cameras around.”
The Heat, for their part, could take heart in dominating for long stretches of the game. But at the end of the day, Abbotsford (19-17-5) missed a golden opportunity to draw even with the Marlies (20-16-7) for third place in the North. The Heat surrendered a 2-0 lead, and came up empty on a pair of four-on-three power plays in overtime as their three-game winning streak came to an end.
“We should have had two points, and they shouldn’t have had any,” asserted forward Jon Rheault, who ignited the Heat offence in the second period with a goal and an assist. “But we are playing good hockey. We’ve just got to get over these lapses to be a great team. I think right now, we’re maybe satisfied with being a good team.”
The Marlies out-shot the Heat 8-7 in the first period, but it was the hosts who had the better of the play. Abbotsford set the tone physically – Ryley Grantham plastered Marlies defenceman Mike Brennan into the end boards in the early going, and later on, Matt Pelech absolutely destroyed Christian Hanson with a huge open-ice check.
The Heat also had the higher-quality scoring chances. Matt Keith had a good look at Marlies goalie James Reimer on a two-on-one break, but Reimer came up with a pad save. Then, on a Heat power play, Reimer turned aside Greg Nemisz’s point-blank shot in a goalmouth scramble.
Abbotsford got to Reimer early in the second. In a four-on-four situation, Rheault beat a Marlies defenceman along the boards, skated into the slot and unleashed a top-corner snipe. It marked the first goal in nine games for Rheault, who has been perhaps the Heat’s best forward since the Christmas break but hadn’t had a goal to show for it.
John Armstrong doubled the Heat lead less than two minutes later. Armstrong stepped out of the penalty box and right into a two-on-one break with Rheault, finishing things off with a glove-side wrist shot. Armstrong’s goal was his second in as many games after a 31-game goalless drought.
The Marlies got on the board shortly after killing a Heat power play. Mike Zigomanis was sprung on the breakaway and beat Irving to the blocker side at the 5:31 mark of the middle frame.
Zigomanis’s goal inspired the Marlies, and over rest of the second period, the Heat were the nail rather than the hammer. Juraj Mikus leveled the score on a highlight-reel feed from Fabian Brunnstrom. Brunnstrom, recently acquired in a trade by the NHL parent Toronto Maple Leafs, slipped a backhand pass cross-crease to Mikus, who had all day to deposit the puck behind Irving.
A scoreless third period gave way to overtime, during which the Heat had every opportunity to win after penalties to Keith Aulie (hooking) and Simon Gysbers (cross-checking). Abbotsford failed to generate much in the way of scoring chances, though.
Heat head coach Jim Playfair felt his charges should have made a more concentrated effort to get the puck down low and take it to the net on the OT power plays.
“They didn’t have the confidence to calmly slow the pace down and make the right play at the right time,” he said. “I thought they were being too anxious.”
• With 1:20 left in overtime, Marlies coach Dallas Eakins got into a high-volume disagreement with referee Jean Hebert over line-change protocol prior to a defensive-zone faceoff. Eakins made his point by slamming the bench door repeatedly, and Zigomanis was given a game misconduct for arguing with Hebert.
• Playfair said the atmosphere at the AESC for the televised game was “awesome.”
“The organization and the city did a really nice job of promoting our building and our community to the national audience,” he said.
“When this place is full . . . it’s a fun, fun place to play,” Rheault echoed. “The fans are great – when they were cheering ‘Go Heat go’ there at the end, it was something special.”
• Brad Hutchinson, a 48-year-old Abbotsford resident, won a new car during a contest in the second intermission sponsored by the Fraser Valley Auto Mall and the Abbotsford News.
• The Heat wrap up a 10-game homestand with a Tuesday-Wednesday set at the AESC against the Peoria Rivermen. The puck drops at 7 p.m. both nights.