Defenceman T.J. Brodie played 54 games last season with the Calgary Flames

Defenceman T.J. Brodie played 54 games last season with the Calgary Flames

Heat training camp preview: Battle for roster spots will be fierce

The AHL regular season doesn’t open until Oct. 12, but one of the Abbotsford Heat’s most intense games of the year runs a week earlier.

The AHL regular season doesn’t open until Oct. 12, but one of the Abbotsford Heat’s most intense games of the year runs a week earlier.

Head coach Troy Ward will preside over the Red and Black Game, an intrasquad scrimmage, on Oct. 5. (The opening faceoff is at 7 p.m. at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre, and yes, fans are welcome.)

The game, coming as it does on the eighth full day of training camp, will be a pivotal moment – at least in the short term – in some players’ careers. Ward anticipates making his first and only round of cuts the next morning, and barring injury, he’d like to keep a relatively lean roster of 13 forwards, eight defencemen and two goalies.

In light of the extra bodies assigned to Abbotsford during the NHL lockout, simply cracking the roster is going to be a tall order. Members of the Calgary Flames braintrust – general manager Jay Feaster, assistant GM John Weisbrod and head coach Bob Hartley – will be watching from the stands, and there won’t be any other exhibition games for players to make an impression. There’s plenty on the line.

“I expect it’ll be a little bit of a donnybrook, so to speak,” Ward said, looking ahead to the Red and Black Game. “This is such a tough business, and there’s some good players coming into this camp.

“The level of competition is going to be stiff. There’s a lot of guys vying for very few spots. That’s going to require, obviously, some big decisions by us. But the decisions become a little bit easier based on how the next few days go.”

Training camp officially opens this Friday, and in anticipation, we’ve broken down the position-by-position roster battles.

FORWARDS

Let’s put ourselves in Ward’s shoes and sketch out some potential forward lines.

Let’s leave intact the unit of Krys Kolanos, Paul Byron and Dustin Sylvester that had so much success together at the tail end of last season. The second line, then, would start with centre Ben Walter, and we’ll flank him with free agent signee Ben Street (27 goals with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins last year) and rookie Sven Baertschi, one of the top offensive prospects in hockey.

We still haven’t found spots for a trio of players who suited up for NHL games with the Flames last season – Lance Bouma, Roman Horak and Greg Nemisz (pictured right). So we’ll put them together on the third line.

Heat captain Quintin Laing and physical winger Akim Aliu formed an effective checking-line partnership last season, so we’ll keep them together and slot in rambunctious youngster Carter Bancks on the other wing.

That’s four solid lines, and we still haven’t made room for a couple of highly touted rookies (Max Reinhart and Michael Ferland), several members of the Heat’s supporting cast last season (Adam Estoclet and Ryan Howse, among others), or former highly touted prospects aiming to re-establish themselves (Mitch Wahl and Bryan Cameron).

It could certainly be argued Reinhart deserves a spot in our hypothetical lineup after his strong playoff performance with the Heat last spring. But who do you take out?

Considering Ward plans to keep just 13 forwards, the battles will be fascinating.

The Heat bench boss is evaluating forwards based on three criteria – work ethic, consistency, and the ability to slot into certain roles.

“We’ve got to find guys who fit the right positions, who can play to their capabilities within a role, consistently,” he explained. “It becomes more of a slotting thing.”

DEFENCE

While the forward corps boasts plenty of depth and versatile parts, the same can’t be said of the defence.

With mobile blueliners Clay Wilson and Brian Connelly having found new hockey homes in the off-season, only one D-man under contract – smooth-skating third-year pro T.J. Brodie – has a track record of point production at the AHL level. And if not for the NHL lockout, he likely wouldn’t even be here.

Beyond Brodie, the Heat have three other defencemen with significant AHL experience – returnees Chris Breen and Joe Piskula (pictured right), and Joe Callahan, a free agent signee who spent last season with the Hamilton Bulldogs. Each of those players fits the classic stay-at-home mould.

Battling to get into the lineup are returnees James Martin and Nick Tuzzolino; Brady Lamb, who signed with the Flames out of the University of Minnesota-Duluth last spring; and Zach McKelvie, a free agent addition who played 39 games with the AHL’s Providence Bruins last season as a rookie pro.

Perhaps the most interesting name on the Heat’s training camp roster is Steve McCarthy. The Trail, B.C. native has 302 NHL games on his resumé with the Chicago Blackhawks, Vancouver Canucks and Atlanta Thrashers, and he’s coming in on a professional tryout contract after spending last season with Zurich of the Swiss A League. McCarthy has a history with new Flames coach Hartley, having played for him in both Atlanta and Zurich.

A big part of Ward’s focus on the blueline is forging effective partnerships.

“A lot of D stuff is based on partner success,” he said. “It’s a relationship between two players.

“Whatever the talent may be or whatever the situation may be, we have to try and find people that can play together.”

GOALIES

Leland Irving was the last remaining member of the Heat’s original 2009-10 roster, but the Flames elected not to send him to Abbotsford this fall because they didn’t want to risk losing him on waivers.

The Heat should be fine in goal, though, with Danny Taylor and Barry Brust.

Taylor (pictured right) was phenomenal after joining the Heat in early December of last season. The journeyman keeper posted the eighth-best goals against average in the league (2.29) to go with a 22-13-3 record and a .924 save percentage, and he earned the starting gig in the playoffs.

Brust has a track record of AHL success. In 2010-11 with the Binghamton Senators, he went 29-19-1-2 with seven shutouts, a 2.53 goals against average and a .925 save percentage during the regular season. The Senators would go on to win the Calder Cup, but Brust saw limited action in the playoffs as top prospect Robin Lehner took over as Binghamton’s No. 1 keeper.

Brust, who spent last season in Germany with the Straubing Tigers, signed a one-year AHL contract with the Heat in August.

Ward is looking for one of the goalies to seize control of the No. 1 job, but he noted the top spot on the depth chart could fluctuate throughout the season.

“I think it’s just the ebb and flow of a tough league,” he explained. “It’ll be merit-based.”

To view the Heat’s complete training camp roster, click here.

Just Posted

Robert Nelson, 35, died after being stabbed at a homeless camp in Abbotsford on April 7 of this year.
Mom pleads for information about son’s killing at Abbotsford homeless camp

Robert Nelson, 35, described as ‘man who stood for justice, honour, respect’

FVRD surveyed public opinion on cannabis production and processing in the electoral areas. Odour and distance from residential areas were the top concerns. (Black Press file)
Cannabis production and processing rules being drafted by Fraser Valley Regional District

Data from public opinion survey will be used to guide cannabis-related land use

Police arrest the suspect in an attempted armed bank robbery on June 2 at the Scotiabank at Gladwin Road and South Fraser Way in Abbotsford. (Photo by Garry Amyot)
Abbotsford bank robbery suspect who was stopped by customers faces more charges

Neil Simpson now faces total of eight charges, up from the initial two

Vancouver Canucks captain Bo Horvat greets fans outside of the Abbotsford Centre prior to the Canucks exhibition game against the Ottawa Senators in 2019. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)
More jobs posted for Abbotsford AHL team

Five new opportunities accepting applicants, Comets forward Lukas Jasek signs in Finland

Singer Ben Cottrill performs during the 2019 Arty Awards at The Reach Gallery Museum, the last time the event was held in person. Cottrill received the award in the performing arts category. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)
Nominations now open for 2021 Arty Awards

Annual event hosted by Abbotsford Arts Council, with ceremony Sept. 25

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. watching U.K.’s COVID struggles but don’t think province will see similar pitfalls

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read