Abbotsford Heat head coach Troy Ward administered a very public spanking last Sunday, benching Ben Walter, Roman Horak, Sven Baertschi and T.J. Brodie for the entire third period and overtime in a 3-2 OT loss to the Houston Aeros.
If Friday’s home date with the Hamilton Bulldogs was any indication, the offensive-minded quartet took the less-than-subtle message to heart.
All four players hit the scoresheet in the Heat’s 5-1 victory at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre, dominating to the point where you almost expected Sweet Georgia Brown to start playing.
Walter notched a goal and an assist to move past Jon Rheault and into top spot on the Heat’s all-time points list, while Horak scored his first goal since Nov. 2, snapping a nine-game goalless drought.
“It’s definitely a message,” Brodie said with a wry grin, reflecting on the previous game’s benching. “You’ve got to respond the right way to it. I knew I had to come out tonight and play well.”
The Heat carried the play five-on-five vs. the Bulldogs, particularly in the first two periods, but it was on the power play where they did most of their damage.
The hosts went 4-for-9 on the man advantage, reversing a trend that saw them go 1-for-25 on the power play during their recent five-game road trip.
“During the times we’ve struggled offensively, it’s largely had to do with our power play – it hasn’t generated much offence,” Ward said. “Whether you score or not is somewhat immaterial to our coaching staff – whether you generate chances is what’s important. But we hadn’t even been generating many chances.
“We spent the last couple days working real hard on it, and it paid dividends.”
Ben Street opened the scoring on a two-man advantage at 6:50 of the first period, one-timing a shot past Bulldogs goalie Robert Mayer off a sweet backdoor feed from Paul Byron. Baertschi also picked up an assist on the play.
Before the second penalty expired, Walter made it 2-0, whipping a shot from the slot between Mayer’s legs.
Heat captain Quintin Laing notched the lone even-strength goal of the night early in the second, tapping in a lovely pass from Brett Olson on the rush.
Horak snapped his slump shortly thereafter, swatting home the rebound off Brodie’s initial shot on the power play. It was Brodie’s second assist of the night.
Gabriel Dumont denied Heat goalie Barry Brust’s shutout bid, scoring on a four-on-three shorthanded situation at 3:42 of the third, but Steve McCarthy restored the home side’s four-goal edge, one-timing a slapper from the point on another Abby power play.
The Heat, who sit atop the AHL overall standings with a 13-2-4 record, out-shot the Bulldogs 28-16 en route to avenging one of just two regulation defeats this season. Hamilton edged them 2-1 at Copps Coliseum back on Oct. 28.
“We definitely had that in the back of our minds, that we wanted to right that,” Street said.
The only negative for the Heat on this night was the fact that Walter and Baertschi were unable to finish the third period due to injury. No update on their condition was available post-game.
“They were just nicked up, to what extent I don’t know,” Ward said.
Greg Nemisz made his season debut for the Heat on Friday, playing right wing on a line with Adam Estoclet and Max Reinhart. He’d been sidelined by a lower-body injury suffered just prior to training camp.
“He didn’t have to do anything but play minutes, and I would have been happy,” Ward said, noting that the 6’3″ Nemisz lends much-needed size to the Heat’s forward corps. “Obviously it’s going to take Greg a while to get going, but I thought he did a good job.”
Friday’s attendance was 5,145, and the two teams clash again at the AESC on Saturday (7 p.m. start).
• Walter has 74 points in 93 games in just one-and-a-quarter seasons in Abbotsford, while Rheault (now with the Florida Panthers organization) posted 72 points in 131 games over parts of three seasons.
“Whenever you talk about Ben Walter, you talk about consistency, and that’s one of the biggest things you can do in any walk of life,” Ward said. “He’s a classy man, he does a really good job off the ice with our team, but he certainly does a really good job on the ice in the two years we’ve had him here.”
• Hockey Hall of Famer Yvan Cournoyer (pictured right with Heat president Ryan Walter) was at the AESC for the Heat’s second Legends of Hockey promotion of the season. He signed autographs and dropped the puck for the ceremonial opening face-off.
• NHL veteran defenceman Mike Commodore made his Bulldogs debut after signing a professional tryout contract on Wednesday. He won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, and has 484 NHL regular season games on his resumé.
Commodore was a fixture in the penalty box on Friday – he picked up four minor penalties, and posted a -1 rating and one shot on goal.