Three days into Abbotsford Heat training camp, Krys Kolanos is carving out quite the compelling comeback story.
The NHL veteran, on a tryout with Abbotsford after sitting out a season and a half following major hip surgery, was the Heat’s best player on Sunday evening as they edged the UBC Thunderbirds 3-1 in exhibition action at South Surrey Arena.
Kolanos opened the scoring with 1:32 left in the second period, hammering a one-timed slap shot past UBC goalie Jordan White on the power play. He spent much of the rest of the evening zipping around the offensive zone with the puck virtually glued to his stick, en route to first star honours.
“He was like a man against boys,” Heat head coach Troy Ward said of Kolanos. “We kind of figured that would be the way it was, but he hasn’t played in over a year.”
Sunday’s game, played on an Olympic-sized ice surface, got off to a rather scrambly start. The Heat and T-Birds battled to a scoreless draw through 20 minutes, with the AHLers holding a territorial advantage.
Abbotsford took over in the middle frame, out-shooting UBC 15-1, but were unable to dent the twine until Kolanos broke through on the power play. From the top of the left circle, he pulled the trigger off a feed from blueliner Philippe Seydoux, and White, moving left to right, wasn’t able to get across in time.
Early in the third period, White authored the highlight of the night. A loose puck found Justin Dowling’s stick at the side of the cage, but White came diving back to his right and to deny the Heat forward with the paddle of his goalie stick.
Justin McCrae leveled the score at 3:39 of the third on a UBC power play, cranking a slap shot from the right faceoff circle between the pads of Heat goalie David Brown.
Rookie pro Ryan Howse notched what turned out to be the game-winner, beating White five-hole with a wrist shot at the 10:06 mark.
Bryan Cameron gave the Heat some insurance less than two minutes later, swooping around the UBC cage before unleashing a glove-side snipe.
Kolanos, a 30-year-old centre who played the bulk of his 136 NHL games with the Phoenix Coyotes, generated a number of quality scoring chances on a line with Heat veterans Mitch Wahl and Jon Rheault.
“It was definitely a step in the right direction,” he said with a smile. “It’s been a while since I’ve played a game, and it felt good to get out there and really feel it, be in that moment. I definitely had a lot of chances, but I expect that of myself and my linemates.”
Kolanos’s path to earning a contract isn’t quite as straightforward as it might seem based on his performance Sunday, given that the NHL parent Calgary Flames still have 42 players in training camp, and the Heat have 27.
“It’s an organizational decision, because he’s got to be the right fit,” Ward pointed out. “Obviously if you just looked at tonight, it’s a no-brainer. But there’s a lot of variables that are involved.”
• The Heat’s scratches on Sunday included forwards Quintin Laing, Logan MacMillan and Dustin Sylvester; defencemen John Negrin and James Martin; and goalie Adam Avramenko.
Ward said his main priority with the exhibition game was looking at players he wasn’t as familiar with. Hence, the decision to sit Heat veterans like Laing, MacMillan and Negrin.
Ward felt the team could have done a better job generating offence against UBC.
“I didn’t think we managed the puck well as a group,” he said. “I expected us to make more plays on the big ice sheet. I was surprised we didn’t.”
• Sunday’s game was special on a number of levels for defenceman Cam Brodie.
The 23-year-old White Rock native grew up playing at the South Surrey rink – first with the local Semiahmoo Minor Hockey Association, then a half-season with the junior A Surrey Eagles. He also played for UBC during the 2009-10 season.
“I hadn’t played in this arena in quite a few years, so it was fun coming back,” said Brodie, who played with the ECHL’s Stockton Thunder last season. “I’ve got about 10 family members here.”
• Defenceman J.P. Cote, also on a tryout, announced his presence with a devastating hit on UBC’s Cole Wilson early in the third period.
• Andrew Engelage started between the pipes for the Heat before giving way to Brown midway through the second period. Steven Stanford and White shared the UBC goaltending chores.
• Heat training camp continues Monday, with two on-ice sessions at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre. Group A is on from 10:15 a.m. to 11:15 a.m., with Group B to follow from 12:45 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. Practices are open to the public. For a full training camp schedule, visit abbotsfordheat.com.