For fans of the Abbotsford Heat, the off-ice events of Wednesday morning were at least as interesting as what was happening on the ice.
The Heat had a rare morning game – a 4-2 road loss to the San Antonio Rampage – but equally intriguing was the future of Calgary Flames centre Craig Conroy.
Conroy, a veteran of 1,009 NHL games, cleared waivers on Wednesday after being a healthy scratch for 27 of the parent club’s last 28 contests. That left the 39-year-old at a fork in the road: Retire as a player, or accept an AHL assignment with the Heat.
Conroy’s presence in Abbotsford would be a huge boon for the Heat, in terms of on-ice contributions, marketing potential, and the ability to mentor one of the youngest teams in the AHL. The prototype for such a leadership role would be Mike Keane – the three-time Stanley Cup winner spent the twilight of his career with the Manitoba Moose before retiring last summer at age 43.
But at age 39, and with a family to consider, Conroy told the Calgary Sun he’s leaning towards retirement rather than playing in Abbotsford. Jay Feaster, the Flames’ acting general manager, said the organization would give Conroy through the all-star break (Jan. 29-30) to decide his future.
Conroy signed a one-year, two-way contract last summer that pays $500,000 in the NHL and $200,000 in the AHL.
Heat head coach Jim Playfair would obviously welcome Conroy, but said Wednesday afternoon he has no plans to contact the veteran centre in the immediate future.
“That’s between him and Calgary,” Playfair said.
“Craig is a very, very good person, and he’s been a good pro. If he decides to come down here, he’d be a very good leader for our centre icemen.”
As news broke that Conroy had cleared waivers, the Heat were in action at San Antonio’s AT&T Centre. They were at their rough-and-tumble best in the first period, out-shooting the Rampage 13-6 and claiming a 1-0 lead. Matt Keith, on a two-man advantage, did the honours with his team-leading 14th goal.
But the Rampage found some traction after the first intermission, out-shooting Abbotsford 23-18 over the rest of the game. Bracken Kearns, Alexandre Picard, Brett MacLean and Jonas Ahnelov – into an empty net – scored to give the hosts a three-goal cushion, before Heat defenceman T.J. Brodie tacked on a late power play goal.
Rampage goalie Al Montoya stopped 29 of 31 shots, including a pair of Jon Rheault breakaways in the third period, while his Heat counterpart J.P. Lamoureux sustained his first AHL defeat of the season. Lamoureux’s record now sits at 3-1-1-1.
“I thought we did a really good job in the first period,” Playfair said. “Selfish penalties got in the way of our ability to win. That’s the second game in a row where we’ve had selfish stick penalties cost us.”
The Heat made a pair of lineup changes against the Rampage. Captain Quintin Laing sat out with an upper body injury, and was replaced by Logan MacMillan. Playfair is hopeful Laing will be ready to go for Friday’s road game against the Houston Aeros.
Keith Seabrook, a healthy scratch the previous three games, drew back in on the Heat blueline in place of Josh Meyers. Seabrook assisted on Matt Keith’s goal, but he and defensive partner Gord Baldwin both finished with a -3 rating.
Playfair said Wednesday’s game might have been the most ragged performance by the Heat defensive corps this season. He added he’s “very disappointed” in Seabrook’s play, given that he had high expectations for the defenceman heading into his second pro season.
“He’s a player who’s got to take a hard look at his career,” Playfair said. “For him to be a good player, he’s got to be a lot more physical, and a harder player to play against.”
• Former Heat forward J.D. Watt, waived by the Flames earlier this month after requesting a trade, suited up against his ex-teammates on Wednesday. Watt, who is on a tryout contract with San Antonio, did not register a point or a shot on goal.
• The Heat continue their Texas tour with games against the Houston Aeros (Friday) and the Texas Stars (Saturday).