The Abbotsford Heat put the puck in the net twice on Sunday afternoon, but only one counted.
A controversial decision by referee Mark Lemelin to wave off an apparent power-play goal by Krys Kolanos in the second period was the pivotal moment, as the San Antonio Rampage completed a two-game sweep of the Heat at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre with a 3-1 victory.
Trailing 1-0 midway through the middle frame, the hosts appeared to level the score after Kolanos ripped a glove-side wrist shot past Rampage goalie Dov Grumet-Morris.
But Lemelin said no goal, ruling that Heat forward Guillaume Desbiens, who had supplied the screen in front, interfered with the keeper. Desbiens was irate, pointing repeatedly at the video replay screen, which seemed to show his contact with Grumet-Morris was minimal.
The call was all the more baffling because Lemelin didn’t assess Desbiens a penalty on the play.
“If it’s a disallowed goal and it’s goaltender interference, why isn’t there a penalty?” Heat head coach Troy Ward wondered aloud afterward. “We’re 20 games in, and no one’s called it like that all year.”
“It’s hard to critique a referee’s judgement, but I didn’t think he was very well-positioned to make the call,” Desbiens analyzed. “The goalie came charging at me behind my back, which is his play. He wants to push me out of his view. But when you look at the replay – and I know the referee doesn’t have access to that – I wasn’t in the crease, and he came towards me to make contact.”
Had the goal stood, it might have changed the complexion of the game. The defeat, though, extended the Heat’s home-ice frustrations – they’re 11-2 on the road, but just 2-5-1-0 at the AESC.
Abbotsford, after absorbing a 5-0 beatdown from the Rampage on Friday evening, turned in a much better performance on Sunday, out-shooting San Antonio 31-19.
But it was the Rampage who opened the scoring on their very first shot of the game, just 29 seconds in. Heat goalie Leland Irving was screened on the play, and San Antonio defenceman Colby Robak’s point shot was picture-perfect, hitting the top corner.
The Heat took ownership of the game in the second period, out-shooting the Rampage 14-6 in the frame.
Just over two minutes after Kolanos’s disallowed goal, the Heat got one that counted. Captain Quintin Laing wheeled across the blue line and pulled up at the top of the right circle, then hammered a slap shot that beat Grumet-Morris to the glove side.
Rampage forward Bill Thomas got the game-winner at 6:56 of the third. Just one second after the Heat’s John Armstrong was released from the penalty box after serving two minutes for tripping, Thomas chopped at a bouncing puck in the slot, and it arced over Irving’s shoulder.
David Marshall gave the visitors some insurance at the 14:17 mark, beating Irving with a wrist shot on the rush.
The Heat’s power play was toothless on the weekend – the AHL’s fifth-ranked man-advantage unit coming in went 0-for-11 over the two games, a stat made all the more surprising since San Antonio came in with the league’s worst penalty kill.
“It’s frustrating, but we’ve got to stick with it,” said Heat centre Ben Walter. “Maybe we’ll try some new looks, try to run some new plays, stuff like that. But we’re getting in the zone, we’re getting chances, we’re getting shots.
“We’re just having trouble putting the puck in the net. It’s one of those things where you can’t really get down about it at this time of year. At least we’re getting chances, and I thought we did a lot of things better than we did Friday night.”
The two-game homestand now complete, the Heat now bounce back out on the road for a four-game jaunt, beginning Tuesday against the Milwaukee Admirals.
“It’s one of the most difficult stretches I’ve ever coached in,” Ward said, alluding to the fact his team will have played 17 games on the road by the time the next trip is done, compared to just eight at home. “We’re getting challenged mentally right now.
“It would be different if we were living in Rockford, and we were traveling to Chicago and Peoria and Milwaukee. But we’re not.”