The Abbotsford Heat found a cure to their early-season offensive woes, and his name is Krys Kolanos.
The former Phoenix Coyotes first-round pick made his Heat debut on Friday, and notched a hat trick and added an assist in a 5-1 road victory over the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Kolanos hadn’t seen game action since January 2010, having been sidelined by microfracture hip surgery in the interim. He earned a professional tryout contract with the Heat out of training camp this fall, but his debut was delayed by lingering lower-body issues.
The Heat had mustered just 12 goals over their first seven games, but Kolanos delivered the desired spark after being inserted into the lineup Friday.
“It’s definitely been a long time coming,” said Kolanos, who played on a line with Ben Walter and Jon Rheault. “I’m surrounded by a lot of great people in this organization, and they made it a real easy transition to coming back and playing at a high level again. All the credit goes to them.”
After the Griffins’ Chris Conner and Abby defenceman Clay Wilson exchanged goals in the opening period, Kolanos came alive in the second, scoring twice and assisting on Rheault’s second of the year. He completed the hat trick at 13:55 of the third.
“I know what he’s capable of, so I can’t say I was honestly surprised by the result,” Heat goalie Leland Irving said of Kolanos. “He creates offence every time he’s on the ice. He’s been one of the top players in this league, and he was definitely a huge boost to this offence.
“I think the guys will feed off of that.”
Irving’s performance, in an unconventional way, also provided plenty for his teammates to feed off of. Generally a mild-mannered gentleman, the Heat goalie had the first fight of his hockey career late in the second period.
Heat forward John Armstrong ignited the festivities, driving to the net for a rebound and colliding with Grand Rapids goalie Joey MacDonald. A scrum ensued, with Armstrong at the bottom of the pile, and Irving spotted MacDonald feeding Armstrong a couple of shots with his blocker.
Irving channeled his inner Ron Hextall, charging down to the far end of the ice and shedding blocker and trapper, and he earned the unofficial decision after landing a couple of punches.
Both goalies received game misconducts for being involved in a secondary altercation – there were already two scraps going on at the time – leaving Abby’s Joni Ortio and Grand Rapids’ Jordan Pearce to mop up in relief.
“I guess you could say it’s something out of character,” Irving said with a chuckle. “But when their goalie is beating on your teammate, it’s something that has to be done. You’ve got to even up the numbers.
“The guys were pretty excited for me. It’s just one of those things – as a teammate, you’ve got to stick up for guys.”
Kolanos said Irving’s fight really fired up the Heat bench.
“I think everyone really enjoyed it, and I’d give him the nod, for sure,” Kolanos said with a chuckle. “It’s always nice to see your goalie get that into it.”
Rheault (one goal, one assist), Walter (three assists) and Guillaume Desbiens (two assists) also had multi-point outings for the Heat, but it was definitely Kolanos’s night.
“It was the most frustrating thing ever, as a player who’s hungry to contribute to the team,” he said, referring to the nagging injuries that delayed his debut. “It’s the hardest thing, to watch, so it’s nice to be back.”
Abbotsford’s special teams were dominant – the power play went 3-for-7, while the penalty killers snuffed all eight of the Griffins’ man-advantages.
“It was a huge game for us, a big stepping stone,” Irving said.
The Heat (5-3-0) now bus to Hamilton, where they face the Bulldogs on Sunday afternoon and again on Tuesday evening. The Abby club returns home for a two-game set with the Oklahoma City Barons at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre (Thursday an Saturday, 7 p.m. both nights).