The Harlem Globetrotters play at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre next week, and the Abbotsford Heat offered a preview with a similarly stylish – and dominant – performance on Tuesday.
The Heat continued their hottest offensive stretch of the season, lighting up the Charlotte Checkers 7-1, and the display of skill was such that Sweet Georgia Brown would have been a fitting soundtrack.
Thirteen of 18 skaters in the Abby lineup registered at least a point, while six posted multi-point outings.
Making his first start in goal as a member of the Heat, Olivier Roy could only marvel at the offensive pyrotechnics.
“The way they played was amazing – it was really pretty to watch from my net,” the 22-year-old said with a smile. “I was really impressed with the game they played.”
Roy’s own performance was pretty impressive as well.
Acquired from the Edmonton Oilers in November in a multi-player trade which saw the NHL parent Calgary Flames pick up defenceman Ladislav Smid, Roy spent the better part of three months with the Alaska Aces, the Heat’s ECHL affiliate.
He was recalled last week after Joey MacDonald suffered a concussion, and ascended to the No. 1 spot in the Heat’s depth chart after Joni Ortio was summoned by the Flames on Sunday. Ortio’s first career NHL stint is in relief of injured Calgary goalie Karri Ramo.
Roy made the most of his opportunity on Tuesday, turning aside 25 of 26 shots, including a couple of high-quality chances in the early going when the game was still scoreless. He stymied Justin Shugg on a two-on-one break, then stoned Chris Terry with his right pad after he came sweeping out of the corner and tried to tuck the puck inside the far post.
His teammates took over at that point and gave the youngster plenty of margin for error.
Josh Jooris is one of the poster boys for the Heat’s recent offensive explosion – the rookie right winger opened the scoring with his third goal in three games, boosting his total to seven on the season.
Sven Baertschi got the play started with some cycling deep in the Checkers’ zone and got the puck to Corey Locke, who hit Jooris in the slot for a one-timer that rang in off the post at the 4:29 mark of the opening frame.
Max Reinhart made it 2-0 on the power play, finishing off a tic-tac-toe passing play with Corban Knight and Markus Granlund.
Blair Jones made it 3-0 on another man advantage, hammering home a one-timed slap shot after Derek Smith teed it up for him. And just 28 seconds after that, Carter Bancks was left alone in front and had all the time in the world to lift a shot over the left pad of Checkers goalie John Muse.
That marked the end of Muse’s night – he was replaced by Mike Murphy after allowing four goals on 12 shots.
Murphy kept the Heat at bay in the second period, despite many quality chances, but the Abby squad pumped three by him in the third, courtesy Granlund, Knight and Ben Street.
Philippe Cornet spoiled Roy’s shutout bid with 7:17 left in the third period, whacking the puck home from point-blank range.
“I think there’s a lot of chemistry on the top three lines right now, and you know what, the fourth line as well because they’re producing,” Reinhart said, alluding to Bancks’s goal.
“I think our D-men are doing a good job of moving the puck up, and everyone seems to be on the same page.”
The Heat (29-14-4, 62 points) reclaimed first place in the West Division, leapfrogging the Texas Stars (28-15-5, 61 points), while the Checkers fell to 22-21-6. Abbotsford and Charlotte renew hostilities tomorrow night (7 p.m., AESC).
The Heat have racked up 17 goals in three straight home-ice wins – they beat the Hamilton Bulldogs by scores of 6-0 and 4-1 on the weekend – and head coach Troy Ward said the offensive chemistry his team is displaying has its roots in a terrific series of practices last week.
“We’ve moved the puck extremely well,” Ward noted. “Most of our goals have been from sharing the puck. We’re focusing on our fundamentals and passing because we’ve had some practice time and we’ve been able to elevate our game.”
Ward has praised Roy’s play in practice since arriving in Abbotsford, and was pleased he followed that with a strong performance in a game.
“He’s been real patient up in Alaska,” Ward said. “Now he comes down and gets his moment in the sun.
“We did a nice job allowing him to see the puck, because they had a couple good pushes. On the other end of that, we didn’t move people out at times and he made some critical saves at early junctures, and made it look fairly easy, by the way.”
The Heat exploded for four goals in an eight-and-a-half-minute span in the first period, and Roy said the cushion helped him exhale.
“The guys helped me a lot by taking an early lead, making me relax a little bit and getting the stress out, so you can enjoy and play your game,” he said.
“They’re poised with the puck, and they really don’t make any turnovers. They make my job easier.”
The game marked a homecoming for ex-Heat forwards Brett Sutter and Greg Nemisz, but it wasn’t of the storybook variety for them.
“We didn’t come out prepared, and when you come out against a good team like that, they make you pay,” Nemisz said.
Nemisz, the Flames’ first-round draft choice in 2008 who was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes organization a month ago in exchange for Kevin Westgarth, said the fresh start has been good for him. He’d notched nine points in his previous eight games coming into Tuesday, but was held off the scoresheet.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever been traded, going back to junior, so it was a bit of a shock,” acknowledged Nemisz, who is second on the Heat’s all-time games played list with 206. “But the transition’s been great. We’ve got a great group of guys in Charlotte, and it’s been a lot of fun.”
• Earlier in the day, the Heat dispatched forwards Turner Elson and Evan Trupp to the ECHL’s Aces. They were caught in a numbers game, as Abbotsford has added Jones, Street, Locke and Trevor Gillies in the last two weeks.
• Street was playing his first game with the Heat since being sent down by the Flames on Monday. He notched a goal and an assist, with a +2 rating.
• Chilliwack native Thomas Heemskerk served as Roy’s backup. He was signed by the Heat on Monday from the Quad City Mallards of the Central Hockey League.