The formerly red-hot Abbotsford Heat crashed and burned on Friday evening, suffering a comprehensive 5-0 defeat at the hands of the lowly San Antonio Rampage.
Coming off a stellar 6-1 road trip, the Heat allowed themselves to be depantsed before a home crowd of 4,576 at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
The visitors from Texas thoroughly dominated the proceedings, and by night’s end, the Rampage had chased reigning AHL player of the week Leland Irving from the Heat net not once, but twice.
Abbotsford head coach Troy Ward demonstrated his displeasure by benching his ineffective top line of Ben Walter, Krys Kolanos and Guillaume Desbiens for more than half the game.
“They out-worked us, and we got everything we deserved tonight,” Heat captain Quintin Laing said in the aftermath. “It probably should have been worse than 5-0. It was a humbling experience out there.”
Coming in, the Rampage looked like an easy mark for the Heat. Abbotsford held down first place in both the West Division and the Western Conference with 27 points, while San Antonio, with a paltry 14 points, sat in last place overall.
The Heat may have been expecting that script to play itself out, but the Rampage had other plans. They set the tone early, registering nine of the first 10 shots of the game, and never eased off the gas pedal.
The defeat continued the Heat’s counterintuitive home-road split. They’ve been tremendous away from the AESC, winning 11 of 13 games, but home has held little comfort. They’re just 2-4-1-0 in Abbotsford, and Friday’s loss represented their fourth in a row at home.
“We just didn’t have the same intensity we had on the road,” Heat blueliner Joe Piskula said. “We’ve been on the road so much, we’ve found an identity on the road – just playing hard and playing simple. We got home here finally, and I think we were a little too comfortable with a good record on our hands.”
Rampage blueliner Nolan Yonkman opened the scoring at 5:21 of the first, as Heat goalie Irving whiffed on his shot from the right point.
Bracken Kearns made it 2-0 at the 15:01 mark. On the power play, Colby Robak’s point shot missed the net, but Kearns picked it up off the end boards and slid it past Irving.
Backup Joni Ortio came in for Irving to finish out the first period, but Ward went back to his workhorse starter to open the second.
The Heat generated their best scoring chance of the night early in the middle frame, as the Walter-Desbiens-Kolanos trio combined on a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play that saw the puck end up on Kolanos’s stick to the left of the Rampage cage with goalie Dov Grumet-Morris apparently down and out. But Grumet-Morris hustled across the crease to make a larcenous save with the right pad.
Had that puck gone in, it might have been a different game. But as it stood, the Rampage got to Irving for two more goals in quick succession. The first, a bad-angle shot from Brian Sutherby that trickled between Irving’s legs, was one the Heat keeper would love to have back.
Irving didn’t have a chance on the second – San Antonio forward Bill Thomas hammered home a one-timer off a sweet feed from Mark Cullen on a two-on-one break – but the tally nevertheless marked the end of his night.
The Walter-Kolanos-Desbiens triumvirate, likewise, didn’t see a single shift from that point on, and finished with a combined -5 rating.
Asked about the decision to bench his top line, Ward offered a terse response: “We have standards.”
“We were okay physically tonight, we just didn’t have it mentally,” the Heat bench boss said. “Emotion creates motion, and we didn’t have enough emotion to start the game, and they did.”
Evan Barlow rounded out the scoring at 15:57 of the second, beating Ortio just after a Rampage power play expired.
Former Heat defenceman Keith Seabrook picked up an assist on that goal to cap a satisfying homecoming to the AESC. The Delta native had spent the previous two seasons with Abbotsford, but was moved to the Florida Panthers organization in an off-season trade for Jordan Henry.
“It’s pretty fun to play against all your old teammates and kind of rub it in their face like that,” Seabrook said with a chuckle. “But they’re going to be coming out on Sunday, and they’re going to be a tough team to play against. They’re not going to be happy after this one.”
Seabrook was a frequent resident in former Heat head coach Jim Playfair’s doghouse last season, and he was loaned to the Manitoba Moose at the tail end of the campaign. He said he’s enjoyed the transition to the Rampage.
“I thought it was kind of good for me to get a fresh start,” he said.
The Heat (13-6-1-0) get another shot at the Rampage (8-11-0-0) at home on Sunday (1 p.m., AESC).
“Guys are going to go home and maybe look in the mirror and ask themselves if they did everything to help the team win tonight,” Laing said. “I’m sure 20 guys are going to look in the mirror and say they could have done more. It’s going to be a pride thing and a character thing, and we have that in that dressing room. I expect different results on Sunday.”
• Centre Paul Byron was assigned to the Heat by the Calgary Flames on Friday afternoon, but he did not arrive on time to suit up against San Antonio.
• Ryan Howse made his return to the Heat lineup on Saturday. The rookie winger hadn’t seen game action since the sixth game of the season.
• Ward said he’s not sure at this point whether he’ll go back to Irving on Sunday or give Ortio a chance.
“Both goalies worked and did what they could,” he said. “I thought they both made big saves, we just didn’t play that well in front of them. It’s unfortunate.”