With roster cuts looming, the Abbotsford Heat’s Red vs. White intra-squad game on Friday morning took on a level of intensity more commonly associated with the playoffs.
With Calgary Flames executives John Weisbrod, Craig Conroy and Ron Sutter looking on from the stands at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre, the scrimmage was punctuated by several big hits and a pair of fights.
Just a couple minutes in, Riley Emmerson, a 6’8″ Abbotsford Minor Hockey product in Heat training camp on a tryout, earned a decision over incumbent Heat tough guy Ryley Grantham. Shortly thereafter, veteran forward Stefan Meyer dropped the mitts with tryout defenceman Nick Tuzzolino.
When the dust had settled, Team White had earned a 4-0 victory over Team Red, and the aforementioned four players weren’t the only players who impressed using their hands.
Justin Dowling, Greg Nemisz, Mitch Wahl and Bryan Cameron scored for Team White.
Dowling stole the show in the early going, scoring on a feed from Joshua Turnbull after Team Red goalie Joni Ortio mishandled the puck behind the net. Then, he picked up an assist after Nemisz chipped in his rebound.
The game featured two 30-minute stop-time halves, with Ortio and Leland Irving starting between the pipes for Team Red and Team White, respectively. David Brown (red) and Andrew Engelage (white) came in to play the second half.
After the break, Wahl made it 3-0 on the power play, ripping a shot past Brown from the top of the right circle.
Cameron rounded out the scoring with a highlight-reel effort. The sophomore forward stole the puck and broke in alone on Brown, before roofing a backhander under the crossbar.
Afterward, Dowling said that producing in the scrimmage was a nice confidence boost.
“As long as I’m getting chances and putting up points, I know that’s what Wardo (Heat head coach Troy Ward) wants me to do,” he said. “I’m not going to be a fourth-line guy, hitting people, so I’ve got to be putting up points or I’m not going to be playing.”
In the physicality department, Team White defenceman J.P. Cote made himself conspicuous by standing up Dustin Sylvester at the blue line. Mitch Versteeg of Team Red upended Nemisz with a nice hip check along the boards.
“I’m a seven-year pro, and that was probably the most intense intra-squad game I’ve had in the AHL,” Meyer said afterward. “As you could see from watching the game today, there were no passengers. Guys were going hard, and when it comes down to it, it’s what they want, and it’s what the coaches want to get.”
As for fighting in the scrimmage, Meyer said it’s a somewhat uncomfortable situation.
“You never really want that to happen,” he said. “But we’re all trying to get ramped up for the season, and a guy like me, I like to play on the edge. When that happens, you’ve got to answer the bell and you’ve got to show the guys this is no screw-around time.
“I guarantee you if you go to teams who have won a Calder Cup, they’ve got hungry players. The tone has to be set. Older guys like me have to show that this is a team that’s going to go to war. It doesn’t matter what the setting is. We’re here to work, and we’re here to win as well.”
Quintin Laing (right) tries to swat away a loose puck with his glove during Friday’s intra-squad scrimmage as Ryley Grantham (in white) lurks in front of goalie David Brown.