The Abbotsford Heat’s franchise-record winning streak is history, courtesy of Andreas Engqvist and the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Engqvist scored his second of the game at the 1:08 mark of overtime, snapping a picture-perfect top-corner shot over the glove of Heat goalie Danny Taylor to lift the Bulldogs to a 3-2 victory at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre on Sunday afternoon.
The Heat had a few upbeat moments – most notably, Jordan Henry’s first-period goal, which triggered an avalanche of teddy bears flying from the stands onto the ice. It was part of the Abbotsford club’s annual teddy bear toss, with the stuffed animals being collected for distribution to needy children through the Abbotsford Christmas Bureau.
But by and large, the hosts were less than satisfied with the performance – particularly in the third period, when the Bulldogs took over the game and out-shot the Heat by a 13-3 margin.
“We weren’t very good at all, and we were lucky to get a point tonight,” Heat captain Quintin Laing said, offering a blunt but accurate analysis.
The Heat (19-8-2-0, 40 points) had won their previous six games, and with the single point earned Sunday, moved to within one point of first place overall in the AHL. The Oklahoma City Barons and Houston Aeros – both West Division rivals of the Heat – are at 41 points.
The Heat stumbled out of the gate, as an early interference penalty to blueliner Chris Breen set the table for Engqvist’s first of the night. The Swedish forward, from the left faceoff circle, sniped blocker side on Taylor at the 2:12 mark.
Just past the midway point of the frame, Heat left winger Dustin Sylvester dug the puck out along the side boards and fed it back to Henry at the point. His shot through traffic found the back of the net, prompting the hail of teddy bears (see photo, bottom of page).
It was Henry’s first goal of the season, and it seemed somewhat appropriate that an impromptu party broke out to mark the occasion. The mobile blueliner has been a productive offensive player in seasons past, but he had just two assists in 27 games coming into Sunday’s action.
“I joked with the guys yesterday and earlier today about scoring the teddy bear goal, so we had a couple laughs over it,” said Henry, who went pointless in his first 19 games with the Heat this fall.
“It’s been a struggle, for sure. I didn’t think my first one was going to take this long to come. I’m trying to focus on other parts of my game right now, and not grip the stick to tight about the offence, and I’m sure it’ll come.”
Just 28 seconds into the third period, Aaron Palushaj gave the Bulldogs a 2-1 edge on another power play, as he snapped a high shot over Taylor’s blocker that was a near carbon copy of Engqvist’s first goal.
The Heat equalized less than three minutes later on a two-man advantage. Laing, parked at the top of the crease, took a centering feed from Ben Walter and tapped the puck between the legs of Bulldogs goalie Nathan Lawson.
Heat keeper Taylor came up with a massive save with just under three minutes left in the third, as Palushaj was sprung on a breakaway after stepping out of the penalty box. Palushaj fired a shot labelled for the bottom corner, but Taylor kicked out the right pad to turn it aside. He finished the job by stopping Brian Willsie on the rebound.
With 1:19 left in the third, Sylvester took a roughing penalty behind the play. The Heat managed to kill off the penalty, which extended into OT. But shortly thereafter, Sylvester turned the puck over at centre ice, and it ended up in the back of the Heat net. Olivier Fortier made a slick feed to Engqvist, whose rising shot hit the underside of the crossbar on its way in.
The Heat gave the Bulldogs six power-play chances in each of the two weekend games (Abbotsford won 4-3 in a shootout on Friday), and afterward, head coach Troy Ward bemoaned his team’s occasional shortcomings in the hockey sense department.
“You’ve got to have people who can think in order to be successful in this business,” he said. “We’ve already addressed it by sitting players. We’ve addressed it by not dressing players for games. We’ve addressed it by sending players to the ECHL. We’ve addressed it in every which way possible.
“You have to manage their ice time.”
Ward said his team “unraveled” in the third, but he wasn’t overly pleased with the way they played over the first 40 minutes, either.
“It’s like a ball of yarn at the top of the stairs,” he mused. “Once you get to the bottom, there’s nothing left. We just unraveled. It’s how the game went from start to finish. I thought we were just fortunate to hang in there and get the point.”
• Midway through the second period, linesman Nathan Vanoosten took a puck in the face as the Heat attempted to clear the zone. He headed down the tunnel for further medical attention, but returned after missing just a handful of shifts.
• The Heat made one lineup change from Friday’s win. Justin Dowling, recalled Saturday from the ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies, drew in for Jon Rheault, who suffered a lower body injury Friday.
• In the second intermission, five players from the Abbotsford Pilots junior B hockey club were part of an on-ice contest to win $5,000 for charity. Each player represented a different local charity, and Christopher Vinette won on behalf of the Salvation Army.
• The Heat wrap up their pre-Christmas schedule with a pair of road games against the Grand Rapids Griffins on Wednesday and the Chicago Wolves on Thursday. The game against the Wolves, the Vancouver Canucks’ affiliate, will be broadcast live on Shaw TV (5 p.m. PST start).
Abbotsford Heat fans toss teddy bears onto the ice following Jordan Henry’s first-period goal.