When you’re this good, they call you Scorak.
Abbotsford Heat forward Roman Horak’s Midas touch continued on Friday evening against the Toronto Marlies, as he notched a natural hat trick to power the hosts to a 4-2 victory at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
Horak’s three-goal outburst came in a span of six minutes and 32 seconds bridging the first and second periods, and transformed an early 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead the Heat would not relinquish.
The versatile sophomore pro from the Czech Republic now leads the AHL with 10 goals on the season – two more than his closest pursuer, Drayson Bowman of the Charlotte Checkers – and inspired the proliferation of the Scorak nickname amongst Heat fans on Twitter.
Horak can’t seem to do any wrong on the ice these days, but as far as analyzing his red-hot scoring spurt, he’s at a loss.
“I don’t know,” he said with a grin and a shrug. “I’ve said it many times now – I’ve been lucky. And obviously the goals come easier when you play with guys like Ben (Walter) and Sven (Baertschi). It’s a pleasure to play with them.”
Horak opened the season on a seven-game point streak, before finally being held off the scoresheet by the Marlies in the Heat’s 3-0 win Thursday.
He bounced back with a vengeance Friday.
Spencer Abbott staked the Marlies to a 1-0 lead at 2:31 of the first period, but Horak drew the Heat even with just 2.4 seconds to spare before the intermission. On the power play, his textbook deflection of Steve McCarthy’s point shot eluded Toronto goalie Mark Owuya.
He struck twice more early in the second, on a pair of similar-looking plays. Both times he cleaned up a rebound off Walter’s initial shot, and Baertschi also picked up assists on the two tallies.
The Heat were looking to salt the game away on a power play midway through the second, but former Tampa Bay Lightning blueliner Paul Ranger came up with a pivotal shorthanded goal to draw the Marlies to within one.
But Toronto came unraveled discipline-wise in the third – highlighted by Matt Fraser’s game misconduct for abuse of officials – and handed the Heat three consecutive power plays early in the frame.
Quintin Laing gave the Heat some insurance on one of those man advantages, as Joe Callahan’s point shot bounced off him and into the net.
With the win, Abbotsford (6-1-2, 14 points) moved into first place overall in the AHL.
Heat netminder Leland Irving turned aside 25 of 27 shots to pick up his first victory of the campaign.
It was just his second start of the season, a product of the Heat’s three-goalie logjam involving Danny Taylor (five starts) and Barry Brust (two starts).
“It’s been tough, obviously,” Irving noted afterward. “I’ve been used to being the go-to guy. I’ve just been working hard, waiting for my turn to get in there and just try to give the team a chance to win when it is my opportunity.”
The Heat and Marlies, combatants in the second round of last season’s Calder Cup playoffs, clearly don’t like each other. Friday’s tilt was relentlessly physical, highlighted by a pair of fights and persistent post-whistle scrums.
But the Heat were the more disciplined of the two teams, reversing a recent trend where they’ve made more than their share of trips to the sin bin.
“From a player’s perspective, there’s still some emotion from last year,” Heat head coach Troy Ward noted. “I thought we had better discipline than we’d had in the last couple games.”
In the end, the night belonged to Horak, who appears poised for NHL duty if/when the lockout ever ends.
“We knew he had that kind of talent,” Irving said. “It’s great to see. He’s a great kid and a hard worker, so I’m really happy for him.”
“He’s on fire, that’s for sure,” Ward echoed. “I’m just real excited for the kid. He’s well-prepared to play every game.”
• Heat rookie left winger Michael Ferland made his pro debut, skating on the fourth line with Brett Olson and Max Reinhart.
A 47-goal scorer with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings last season, Ferland didn’t dress for the Heat’s first eight games of the campaign – a function of the team’s NHL lockout-induced depth, and adjustments the 20-year-old needed to make to the pro game.
Ferland’s fitness was said to be less-than-stellar at the start of training camp, and Ward said he spent a great deal of one-on-one time with strength coach Mike Thompson over the past month. It sounded reminiscent of the rookie boot camp Ryan Howse went through last season.
“He’s made a lot of changes in his life – how he manages his life and how he’s doing physically – and it was time to reward Michael,” Ward said. “He deserved everything he got tonight – all the ice time down the stretch, everything like that. He’s been a real good soldier.”
• Ferland, centre Quintin Laing and defenceman Zach McKelvie were inserted into the lineup Friday, with Tyler Ruegsegger, Adam Estoclet and Joe Piskula scratched.
• The Heat’s next action is a Friday-Saturday set against the Oklahoma City Barons next week (7 p.m. both nights, AESC). The Edmonton Oilers’ affiliate is the most star-studded AHL team during the NHL lockout, boasting big-league stars like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. But it’s been Justin Schultz, the Oilers’ highly touted rookie defenceman, who has been the best of the bunch. He’s the AHL’s leading point-getter with 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in eight games.