NHL trade deadline day was largely uneventful from the Abbotsford Heat‘s perspective, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a little bit of electricity in the air at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
Goalie Danny Taylor was absent from Wednesday’s practice, apparently a precautionary measure on the off chance that Calgary Flames keeper Miikka Kiprusoff changed his mind and agreed to a trade. But that transaction did not materialize.
Following the Heat’s two-hour on-ice session, forward Roman Horak hustled off, having been recalled by the Flames. He’ll fill the roster spot vacated by Blake Comeau, who was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets minutes before the deadline.
“There’s a little bit of nervousness in the air,” Heat forward Greg Nemisz acknowledged with a grin after the deadline had come and gone. “You try to approach it like any other day, but there’s always a possibility that there’s going to be some last-minute deadline deals. It’s definitely a little bit of a different day.”
“At times, it can be nerve-wracking,” goalie Leland Irving agreed. “You might be day-dreaming or not really focused on what you need to get done that day.
“But really, it’s stuff that’s out of your control. It’s cool as a fan of the game to see the moves being made and what’s going on, but you know very well that you could be a part of it.
“Obviously we’re happy for Roman to get the call. He works hard, and it’s good for him to get the opportunity.”
NEMISZ A FAN OF CUNDARI
The Flames made one deal in advance of the deadline which did impact the Heat, sending Jay Bouwmeester to the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday for AHL all-star defenceman Mark Cundari, Swiss goalie Reto Berra and a first-round draft choice.
Cundari has been reassigned from the Peoria Rivermen to the Heat, and while he’s nursing a wrist injury, he’s not expected to be sidelined long. He’s set to arrive in Abbotsford late Wednesday evening.
Nemisz has a unique perspective on Cundari – they won back-to-back Memorial Cups as teammates with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires in 2009 and 2010, and locked horns frequently over the past three seasons as AHL opponents.
“Mark’s a great player, and an even better person,” Nemisz enthused. “When I saw that deal had happened, I was pretty excited.”
Cundari, listed at 5’10”, 200 pounds, is somewhat diminutive for a defenceman, but he blends puck-moving skills with a rugged physical edge.
He went undrafted before joining the Blues organization as a free agent in 2010, and Nemisz said his buddy has always been vastly underrated.
“When we won the back-to-back Memorial Cups, I thought he was our best defenceman for those two years,” Nemisz said, and that’s high praise considering the Spitfires’ loaded 2010 squad also included Cam Fowler (Anaheim Ducks) and Ryan Ellis (Nashville Predators/Milwaukee Admirals).
“He’s always been a really good offensive defenceman, but he’s really good defensively now, too,” Nemisz added. “He’s really tough to play against.
“He definitely surprises guys. He’s not the biggest guy height-wise, but he’s rock-solid. He’ll catch guys off-guard with some pretty punishing body checks.”
IRVING BACK IN ACTION
Irving returned to Heat practice on Tuesday after being sidelined following elective surgery on March 12.
He declined to discuss the specifics of the procedure, other than to say it was a condition that was getting progressively worse.
“We found out the recovery time for the surgery was only a couple weeks, and with Kipper back and us having three goalies down here (Irving, Taylor and Barry Brust), we figured it was a good time to get it done, so we took advantage of that,” Irving explained.
“Just getting my timing back and getting a feel for the puck, it continues to get better every day.”
SEIGO MAKES EARLY IMPACT
Defenceman Steven Seigo, signed two weeks ago to an amateur tryout contract by the Heat, made his pro debut last week.
The 22-year-old, who played with Heat forward Brett Olson at Michigan Tech University, picked up a pair of assists on the Heat’s three-game road trip.
“He, like any WHL or college player coming in, has had a real good push out of the gates,” Heat head coach Troy Ward said of Seigo.
“He’s given us some good energy back there. He has poise with the puck, and he’s not afraid at all, which is a really good asset. Most players at this level, they’re afraid (when they make their debut). So he’s been good.”
HEAT A BANGED UP GROUP
The Heat are nursing more than a few bumps and bruises heading into a weekend set vs. the Grand Rapids Griffins (Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. both nights, AESC).
Chris Breen (shoulder) is having surgery which will end his season, and Mike Testwuide (hand) and Carter Bancks (undisclosed) were absent from practice this week.
Nicked-up veteran defenders Brett Carson (who missed two games last week) and Joe Callahan (who missed Tuesday’s practice) were back on the ice Wednesday.
“We’re extremely tired, so we’re trying to get some rest here and there,” noted Ward, whose charges spent the bulk of March on the road. “But we had a really good three games on the road. For a team that could just say, ‘We’re done,’ it wasn’t like that at all.”
STILL PUSHING FOR PLAYOFFS
The Heat’s post-season prospects are bleak to say the least – the website sportsclubstats.com pegs their odds at 0.3 per cent.
Abbotsford (31-29-10, 72 points) is 11th in the Western Conference, three points back of a top-eight playoff spot. But the teams they’re chasing have at least three games in hand, and given that the Heat have just six regular season games remaining, it would take a minor miracle to extend their campaign.
But Ward said his team plans to push hard to the finish line regardless, and he noted the Heat played well on the road last week.
“For a team that could just say, ‘We’re done,’ it wasn’t like that at all,” he said.
“If we can win four games at home the next two weeks and some other teams drop some games, all of a sudden you don’t know. That’s kind of how we’re living our days.”