Michael Ferland and Dean Arsene are at opposite ends of the spectrum in their pro hockey careers, but both had compelling reasons to savour Friday night’s win over the Toronto Marlies.
Ferland, a baby-faced 21-year-old left winger, notched his first two goals as a professional – including the game-winner with 5:55 left in the third period – to power the Abbotsford Heat to a 4-3 victory.
Arsene, a grizzled 33-year-old veteran defenceman from Abbotsford, had the C stitched on his sweater after being voted captain of his hometown AHL squad by his teammates earlier in the day.
“It’s a dream come true just playing here in Abbotsford, having my family and my friends and being able to not be away from my wife and dog,” Arsene noted with a grin afterward. “To have the C, it’s just the cherry on top.”
Arsene, according to Heat head coach Troy Ward, is “a consummate leader,” and that’s no hyperbole. This is the fifth AHL captaincy for the Abbotsford Minor Hockey product – he previously wore the C with the Hershey Bears, Springfield Falcons, Peoria Rivermen and Portland Pirates.
Ferland, meanwhile, is still working to find traction in his career, and is hoping Friday’s game serves as a launching pad.
A fifth-round draft choice by the Calgary Flames in 2010, Ferland began the 2012-13 season with the Heat, but spent some time in the ECHL and ultimately returned to junior, where he wrapped up the campaign with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades.
“Hockey-wise in a lot of ways, it was fine,” Ward said, recalling Ferland’s truncated rookie pro season. “What people don’t understand was, a maturity issue. He was basically a 20-year-old that was living like a 17-year-old. When you try to do that in this room and this environment, it becomes very difficult. That’s not a knock against Michael – that’s just where he was in his development process.”
Upon returning to Abbotsford this fall, Ferland has been “feeling his way,” according to Ward, but the Heat bench boss afforded him the opportunity to play on a line with productive veterans Ben Street and Blair Jones the last couple games in an effort to ignite him.
It paid off on Friday – late in the first period, Street slipped Ferland a cross-crease pass, and the Swan River, Man. native made no mistake, depositing the puck into the wide-open cage behind Marlies goalie Drew MacIntyre.
Ferland’s marker was his first in 22 pro games (AHL and ECHL combined), and capped an offensive explosion which saw the Heat score three times in 1:57 to close out the opening frame and erase the Marlies’ 1-0 lead. Goals by Markus Granlund (his fourth in six games) and Paul Byron (on the power play) preceded the Ferland tally.
Toronto rallied in the second period, though, as Petter Granberg and Stefan Legein beat Heat goalie Joni Ortio to knot things up at 3-3 heading into the third.
The Heat owned the final frame, out-shooting the Marlies 14-6, and that pressure eventually yielded Ferland’s second goal of the game. On a Heat power play, he came bursting down the left wing and unleashed a sizzling wrist shot that eluded MacIntyre to the blocker side.
“I forgot how it felt to score,” he said with a wry grin afterward. “But obviously it felt good to put those goals in, for sure.
“The success I had was from the physical play, using my body. I got a lot of energy off that.”
Ferland had a spirited first-period fight with Toronto forward Sam Carrick, and Ward said the team was ecstatic to see him finally break through offensively.
“The neat part about that whole experience for Michael, even though he hasn’t played that well up until now, is the team is elated (for him),” he said.
“This is a guy who will fight for his teammates, this is a guy who will be physical and do a lot of good things . . . they know it’s been a bit of a grind for him.”
The Heat celebrated their sixth straight win, which keeps them atop the Western Conference at 10-4-1 for 21 points. All six wins in the streak have been by a single goal.
“The temperature of our group here is like medium-rare,” Ward analyzed. “We don’t get too high, we don’t get too low. We don’t have huge emotional swings where I think that we panic or we feel like we’ve got to push harder.
“They’re a close group, and I think they feel like they support each other really well and they battle for each other really well. It’s the DNA of our group. They don’t mind playing in that state (close games) . . . and it’s a good thing.”
• The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, Battle of Alberta rivals, made a rare trade on Friday which impacted the Heat significantly. Defenceman Ladislav Smid and goalie prospect Olivier Roy joined the Flames organization, with a pair of prospects – forward Roman Horak and goalie Laurent Brossoit – going the other way.
Horak had played extensively with the Heat over the past three seasons, and his departure was an emotional one.
“We’ve become very close, both myself and the team,” Ward said. “He asked one thing last night on the phone (after the trade was announced). He asked, ‘Is there a chance I could come in and say goodbye to my teammates?’
“I think that says enough. That’s a classy man. He came in this morning, said goodbye.”
• Roy took Brossoit’s former spot with the ECHL’s Alaska Aces, and he could become a factor for the Heat if there is an goaltending injury or transaction.
A more direct impact of the trade on the Abby club came on Saturday when defenceman Chad Billins was sent down by Calgary – the natural trickle-down after Smid joined the Flames. Billins had played his first two NHL games within the last week, picking up two assists in the process, and he was excellent in his first game back in Abbotsford. He was on the ice for three of the four goals the Heat scored and notched an assist.
• The Heat and Marlies (6-4-1) renew hostilities on Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.