In a move which surprised absolutely no one who follows the team, Quintin Laing was named captain of the Abbotsford Heat on Thursday afternoon.
The 33-year-old centre from Harris, Sask. will wear the C for the third straight season with the Heat.
The AHL club had gone captainless over the first three weeks of the regular season, as head coach Troy Ward wanted his players to gain a bit of familiarity with each other before selecting a leadership group. The players held a captaincy vote earlier in the week.
“It’s the most prestigious way to give it out – to be voted captain by your peers,” Ward said. “To me, it’s one of the highest honours you can give in sport. It’s better than winning.”
Laing joined the Heat early in the 2010-11 season, and was named captain just over a month later. He was voted captain in 2011-12 as well.
“It’s A to Z,” Ward said, reflecting on Laing’s leadership qualifications. “He’s a father, he’s married, he’s played in the NHL, you can just go on and on and on. He’s been through a lot of experiences in life, and he has a lot to lend on and off the ice. And he’s one of our hardest-working players.”
Defencemen Joe Piskula and Steve McCarthy were voted assistant captains. Piskula, a third-year member of the Heat, is known to be a vocal leader. McCarthy, a newcomer this fall, has quickly established himself as a respected presence in the locker room.
“He leads by example,” Ward said of McCarthy. “He has a very mature way about his preparation.”
Laing, Piskula and McCarthy are all considered “veterans” according to AHL development rules, due to the fact they’ve each played more than 320 professional games. The Heat have six vets and are only allowed to dress five, which means that one of their letter-wearers could be up in the press box on any given night.
Ward said they won’t transfer the C if/when Laing is scratched, nor will they share the A’s.
The Toronto Marlies visit the Abbotsford Sports and Entertainment Centre for a two-game set this week (Thursday and Friday, 7 p.m. both nights). It’s their first trip to Abbotsford since the second round of last season’s Calder Cup playoffs, where they eliminated the Heat four games to one.
The Marlies return many familiar faces, including 2009 first-round pick Nazem Kadri, promising puck-moving defenceman Jake Gardiner, and goalie Ben Scrivens, who was a particular Heat nemesis in that series.
Toronto has also added prolific AHL point-producer Keith Aucoin, who led the league in points per game (70 points in 43 games) with the Hershey Bears in 2011-12 before spending the second half of the campaign with the Washington Capitals.
Ward views the Marlies games as a barometer to assess the Heat’s progress and areas for growth.
“The first four games of the season were kind of exhibition – I didn’t look at them any other way, because we didn’t play anybody before that,” he analyzed. “We weren’t sure what we were going to have, and we just wanted to teach and grow. Then we had the little (three-game) road trip, which I thought was going to build some character.
“Now these next four, I just look at as benchmarks. We’re going to play a real good team in Toronto with a lot of depth and some NHL players there. And then we’re going to play Oklahoma City (Nov. 9-10), who obviously have a lot of NHL players. We’re going to find out where we stand.”
BYRON BATTLING BACK
Heat centre Paul Byron, who had been sidelined since training camp with an upper body injury, returned to practice on Tuesday and Wednesday. But Ward ruled him out for the weekend, saying “he’s a long way away yet.”
Heat forwards Greg Nemisz (lower body) and Lance Bouma (sprained right knee) are still out.