Guillaume Desbiens didn’t wait long to prove his worth to the Abbotsford Heat.
On his first shift of the regular season, just 60 seconds into the Heat’s opener last Friday in Cleveland against the Lake Erie Monsters, the hulking right winger took exception to a hit on diminutive linemate Paul Byron and dropped the gloves with Monsters forward Hugh Jessiman.
The scrap seemed to spark the Heat, who went on to sweep both weekend games against the Monsters.
“I think it was a great moment for our team,” Heat centre Quintin Laing said. “We built from that.”
To be clear, chucking knuckles isn’t all Desbiens brings to the table – he was a 20-goal man with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose in 2008-09, the first of his three years in the Vancouver Canucks organization. He made an offensive contribution in the second period of the Heat’s opener, picking up an assist on Greg Nemisz’s power-play goal.
The 6’2″, 205-pounder’s game, though, is defined by physicality.
“You never know when your first fight of the season’s going to be, and it’s kind of funny – one minute in, and you’re already fighting,” Desbiens said with a chuckle, reflecting on his scrap with Jessiman. “But it happened, and that’s the way it’s going to be. If someone’s going to challenge one of our smaller players, we have to step up and defend him.”
Last fall, Desbiens cracked the Canucks’ roster out of training camp and got into 12 NHL games before a broken hand derailed his season.
The Alma, Que. native signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Calgary Flames in July – the Heat’s parent club undoubtedly intrigued by his ability to slot into a top-six forward role at the AHL level, while fitting in seamlessly as a gritty bottom-six guy in the NHL.
Heat winger Jon Rheault, who skated on a line with Desbiens and Byron on the weekend, said Desbiens is the kind of player you hate to play against, but love to have on your team. That’s particularly true where the Heat are concerned – on three occasions over the last two seasons with the Moose, Desbiens notched two points and a fight in the same game against Abbotsford.
“He was always a guy where you’re like, ‘Oh geez, is Desbiens on the ice?'” Rheault recalled with a chuckle. “It’s nice to have him on our team.
“He clears a lot of room – he’s a big guy, but he can skate and he can play. He has the whole package, and he’s a great addition. He’s not a flashy guy, but if you really watch him, he does a lot of things well.”
Desbiens said the “physical, intense” style the Heat played during his days with the Moose contributed to his decision to sign with the organization. He’s looking forward to the Heat’s first home games this weekend – they host the Rockford IceHogs, the Chicago Blackhawks’ affiliate, on Friday (7 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.) at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
“I always liked playing against the Heat,” Desbiens said. “I remember coming and playing here, and being the Canucks farm team, there were always a lot of fans in the stands. I don’t know if it was the atmosphere, or maybe the intensity of the game that made me play a little bit better.”
The Heat still have three goalies on the roster, as Joni Ortio and David Brown jockey for the right to serve as the backup behind starter Leland Irving. Brown seems to have the pole position, having dressed as the No. 2 netminder for both weekend games in Cleveland.
“To be the best we can become, we’ve got to get to two,” Heat head coach Troy Ward noted. “It’s a battle for that spot, and obviously short-term, last weekend we took Brown . . . Every day, it’s being evaluated.”
KOLANOS BACK, BANCKS STILL OUT
Forward Krys Kolanos, on a tryout with the Heat, returned to practice on Tuesday after sitting out last week with an unspecified injury. Sophomore winger Carter Bancks is still out with an upper-body injury.
“We’ve kind of got a pair of white gloves on with that, because of his history of injury,” Ward said of Bancks, alluding to the fact the youngster missed all but 29 games with recurring concussion issues last season.
“The way he plays, he has to be at 100 per cent for him to come back. He just plays a reckless game. There are other players who can maybe come back at 90 per cent . . . but in Bancks’s situation, he needs to be 100 per cent.”
LOOKING FOR LOCOMOTIVES
The ever-quotable Ward, talking about how he plans to handle his forward lines, went to a railroad metaphor.
“Every night, it’s a different guy that pulls the train,” he said. “We’ll see who’s pulling the train, and those guys will play. The other guys who aren’t pulling the train, they’ll probably sit in the caboose and watch us move down the tracks.”
Laing wore the captain’s ‘C’ against Lake Erie on the weekend, with Stefan Meyer and Joe Piskula serving as assistants. Ward said the team will vote on permanent captains on Wednesday.
“The coaches will vote, the trainers will vote, the equipment guys will vote (along with the players) – it’ll be a family approach,” he said. “The coaches are going to have the final weight on the whole thing, but it usually doesn’t differ very much from the players.”
A LITTLE OLDER, PERHAPS WISER?
The Heat are a more veteran group this season, but they’re still towards the younger end of the age spectrum among AHL teams.
Based on opening-night rosters, Abbotsford is the eighth-youngest team in the league in 2011-12, with an average age of 23 years, 10 months. Last season, the Heat had the youngest roster in the league, with an average age of 23 years, zero months.