It was as much a job interview as a hockey game.
The Abbotsford Heat’s Red vs. White intrasquad tilt on Friday evening marked the final on-ice session of training camp, and thus the final chance to make an impression on the decision-makers.
Cuts are coming on Saturday, and it made for an interesting tension. Midway through the third period, for instance, a battle along the side boards between centre Gaelan Patterson and defenceman Zach McKelvie led to both players shedding the mitts and engaging in a brief scrap. Upon emerging from the sin bin five minutes later, the pair – future teammates, potentially – exchanged fist bumps.
“You see the humanity that these guys have,” Heat head coach Troy Ward said afterward. “They’re willing to take off their helmets and go at it, but at the same time they’re people and they realize they’re fighting for the same cause. In the heat of the battle, they had to do at that particular time what they felt was right.”
The players who stood out were, for the most part, the ones you’d expect. Krys Kolanos and Dustin Sylvester rekindled the chemistry they formed last season, and each scored a goal for Team White. T.J. Brodie was his swashbuckling self on the blueline. Rookie phenom Sven Baertschi didn’t score, but he had a couple second-period shifts where he seemed to have the puck on a string.
Among the lesser lights, Tyler Ruegsegger distinguished himself. The 24-year-old centre played predominantly in the ECHL the past two seasons, but earned a couple of call-ups to the Heat. He was a dynamic presence in the scrimmage, assisting on both Team Red goals and nearly adding a tally of his own, ringing a shot off the post.
Michael Ferland’s third-period breakaway goal was the game-winner, while Roman Horak and Jamie Fritsch replied for Team Red.
“I came into tonight’s game thinking I had to be physical, throw my body around, and hopefully have a chance to score a goal,” said Ferland. “It felt good to put that one in there. It was a nice pass from David Eddy.”
All five goalies in camp – Leland Irving, Barry Brust, Danny Taylor, Grant Rollheiser and Alex Evin – saw some action, and in a bit of a quirky outcome, each surrendered a single goal.
Brust was perhaps the best of the bunch – he sparkled in the first period for Team White, including point-blank stops on Ben Street and Adam Estoclet during a five-on-three power play.
Taylor had the save of the night, though. Brett Olson came tearing in on a clear breakaway, and he got the netminder to bite on a backhand-forehand deke. But Taylor reached back and gloved Olson’s shot on the goal line.
Rookie centre Max Reinhart limped off the ice favouring his right foot after blocking a Chris Breen slap shot in the second period. He did not return, and no update on his condition was available post-game.
Now, it’s up to Ward and Calgary Flames management to trim the roster. The Heat bench boss said he expected to be up late into the night discussing individual players with Flames assistant general manager John Weisbrod.
The Heat’s roster is deeper than usual due to the NHL lockout, and solid players will be cut. Part of the evaluation process is identifying which players will be at the front of the recall queue in the event of injuries or if the lockout ends.
“These are tough days ahead,” Ward noted. “But as a group of leaders in front of a team, we have to make these decisions. This is part of the job.
“There are some players who, by the math of this game, won’t be able to stay here. That’s just the math of this business. But as instrumental as they were in the last week, I have to make decisions on, ‘Can they come back here and be a part of us?'”
Sylvester said Saturday will be an “interesting day.”
“It’s been a long week,” he said, reflecting on training camp. “Hopefully I’m around here – I’m excited to get the season going.”