Kotalik’s shootout goal lifts Heat past Penguins

It was a white-knuckle ride, but the Abbotsford Heat locked up a crucial victory over the league-leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Saturday.

Ales Kotalik (left) and Joe Piskula of the Abbotsford Heat battle for the puck with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins forward Brett Sterling.

Ales Kotalik (left) and Joe Piskula of the Abbotsford Heat battle for the puck with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins forward Brett Sterling.

It was a white-knuckle ride, but the Abbotsford Heat locked up a crucial victory over the league-leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Saturday. One night after being thoroughly dominated in a 4-0 defeat to those same Penguins at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre, the Heat put together a much better effort, taking a 4-2 lead into the final two minutes of regulation. But the Pennsylvanian visitors rallied with lightning-quick efficiency, scoring a pair of goals 46 seconds apart to force overtime. It would have been the kind of loss a team battling for a playoff spot could ill afford, but the Heat regrouped and salvaged a 5-4 victory in the shootout. Ales Kotalik scored the lone goal of the skills competition, and J.P. Lamoureux stymied all five Penguins shooters.Afterward, the Heat were in no mood to critique the win. “We would love to get those two goals back in the end, but all that counts right now is the two points,” Kotalik said. “We’re happy to get them and move on.”The two teams battled to a 2-2 stalemate through 40 minutes, with Ryan MacMurchy and John Armstrong tallying for the Heat, and Abbotsford native Ryan Craig and Joe Vitale responding for the Penguins.The Heat seized control in the third period. Josh Meyers, recently recalled from the ECHL, gave the hosts a lead when his slap shot from the right point found its way past a few bodies in front and beat Pens goalie Brad Thiessen. Quintin Laing, on the power play, made it 4-2 at the 12:21 mark of the final frame. Greg Nemisz’s slap shot hit the Heat captain in front, and the puck dropped into the net. The Penguins stuck with it, though. Craig made a nice play to kick-start the comeback – he won a puck battle behind the Heat net to start a sequence that yielded a goal for Brett Sterling at 18:36.In the final minute, Abbotsford defenceman T.J. Brodie had an opportunity to get the puck out of the defensive zone, but his high clearing attempt was knocked down at the line. A few ticks later, off a goalmouth scramble, the puck squirted to Pens defenceman Andrew Hutchinson in the slot, and he hammered a shot past Lamoureux to knot the score. The Heat had the best scoring chance of overtime, but Thiessen made a great glove save on MacGregor Sharp, who had gotten away on a two-on-one break with Ryan Stone.In the shootout, Kotalik beat Thiessen with a slick backhand deke, and Lamoureux did the rest. “They’re not the first-place team in the league for nothing,” Laing noted. “They didn’t quit, and maybe we gave them a little bit too much space. They capitalized, and we’re going to learn from that. We’re just glad we got the two points.”Heat head coach Jim Playfair gave Lamoureux the start over first-stringer Leland Irving after the latter allowed four goals in two periods on Friday.”J.P. went in last night in the third period and gave our team a lot of energy,” Playfair explained. “I felt he deserved a chance to start tonight.”The victory allowed the Heat (32-26-4-5) to keep pace in the race for a playoff berth in the North Division. They’re in fifth place, three points back of the Lake Erie Monsters and four back of both the Hamilton Bulldogs and Toronto Marlies. The Penguins (46-18-0-1) suffered their first extra-time loss this season. They had been 2-0 in overtime and 6-0 in the shootout. “Hey, they’re a good team for a reason,” Playfair said. “We have a lot of kids from the East Coast League filling in right now, and I’m pretty proud of how we found a way to get two points.”ICE CHIPS:• Cam Cunning suffered a left knee injury in the first period on Friday. He’s set to have an MRI on Monday to evaluate the extent of the damange. Cunning’s absence necessitated the recall of Bryan Cameron from the ECHL’s Victoria Salmon Kings, and he was in the lineup on Saturday. • The Heat are off until next Friday, when they open a two-game set against the Hamilton Bulldogs at the AESC.• Saturday’s attendance was 3,955.