The Abbotsford Heat’s first round of roster cuts wasn’t as deep or dramatic as originally anticipated.
Head coach Troy Ward’s initial preference was to settle on his core group of 23 players (13 forwards, eight defencemen, two goalies) by Saturday.
Ultimately, the NHL parent Calgary Flames opted for a more deliberate pruning process – the 45-man roster was trimmed to 31, thus granting a longer audition to prospects on the bubble.
Further cuts are expected later this week, as the Heat prepare for Friday’s regular season opener against the Peoria Rivermen (7 p.m., Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre).
Analyzing the first wave of cuts, it’s abundantly clear that Flames general manager Jay Feaster’s rhetoric about player advancement in the organization being merit-based – as opposed to being influenced by draft pedigree or contract status – isn’t merely lip service.
Among the 14 players demoted were five who have two-way contracts with the Flames: forwards Ryan Howse, Gaelan Patterson, Mitch Wahl and Bryan Cameron, and defenceman James Martin.
Those players, along with blueliner Nick Tuzzolino, who has an AHL contract with the Heat, were assigned to the team’s ECHL affiliate, the Utah Grizzlies. (Tuzzolino missed much of training camp with an undisclosed injury.)
Meanwhile, six players who came into camp on tryout contracts are still around – forwards Kael Mouillierat, Brett Olson and Tyler Ruegsegger, and defencemen Steve McCarthy, Drew MacKenzie and Dennis Urban.
It’s certainly in keeping with Feaster’s merit-based doctrine, particularly in light of the fact the organization invested high draft choices in Wahl (second round, 2008) and Howse (third round, 2009).
“It is a merit-based company,” Ward acknowledged. “Through Jay and John (assistant GM Weisbrod), that’s the way it’s been run since they arrived here together. I don’t see it any different.”
MCCARTHY MAKES THE CUT
The Heat announced that McCarthy, a veteran of 302 NHL games with the Chicago Blackhawks, Vancouver Canucks and Atlanta Thrashers, will begin the season with the club. The Trail, B.C. native spent last season with Zurich of the Swiss league, playing for current Flames head coach Bob Hartley.
Ward likes McCarthy’s straightforward style on the ice, and has been impressed with the 31-year-old’s leadership abilities.
“He’s an experienced guy who’s figured out over time that quick and simple is the best way, instead of trying to find a needle in a haystack, so to speak,” Ward said. “He’s an unassuming, quiet leader. That’s one of the things that’s stuck out to me the most. He has a good feel for life, and a good feel for players.”
MACKENZIE, URBAN BRING MOBILITY
McCarthy is one of nine defencemen left in camp, which means at least one of the other tryout blueliners – MacKenzie and/or Urban – will make the team if the Heat do indeed keep eight.
Both MacKenzie (University of Vermont) and Urban (Robert Morris University) are U.S. college products who could add offensive flair to the back line. MacKenzie posted 23 points in 32 games at Vermont last season, while Urban registered 47 points in 72 games with the ECHL’s Reading Royals.
“They both have an element that we’re looking for back there,” Ward said, alluding to the fact the Heat’s experienced defencemen are predominantly stay-at-home types.
“They’re puck-movers, they’ve both got some skill to them, and they’ve contributed that way in camp. When they’ve gotten some power-play time, they’ve shown they’re capable. We’re still trying to figure out the level they’re capable of.”
In addition to the six players assigned to Utah, eight others were released from their tryout agreements on Saturday: forwards Garry Nunn and Jordan Kremyr, defencemen Mark Isherwood, Dave Cowan, Jamie Fritsch and Peter Merth, and goalies Grant Rollheiser and Alex Evin.
Abbotsford native Isherwood will head to Utah – he had an ECHL contract in place with the Grizzlies prior to training camp.
The Heat still have 31 players in camp: 19 forwards, nine defencemen and three goalies. A complete list is as follows.
(* = in camp on a tryout contract)