Chicago Wolves goalie Eddie Lack had never heard his name chanted by the crowd before – never mind in an opposing team’s rink.
That was the scene at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre on Friday evening, though, as a near-capacity crowd of 6,871 – including a larger-than-usual segment of Vancouver Canucks fans starved for hockey during the NHL lockout – serenaded the lanky Swedish keeper with chants of “Eddie, Eddie, Eddie!”
Lack turned aside 27 shots during regulation and overtime, and all three shooters in the shootout, besting Danny Taylor in an entertaining goaltenders’ duel as the Canucks’ farm team edged the Abbotsford Heat 3-2.
“It was nice,” Lack said with a grin afterward, reflecting on the chants. “That was the first time, so it was pretty special.
“I had to come up big for my team, and I did. Then they came up big for me in the shootout.”
The Heat, for their part, were less enthused about their performance.
“They’ve got a great hockey team, and I think for the first two periods, they pretty much controlled the game,” blueliner Steve McCarthy noted. “We bounced back in the third, but at the end of the day, I don’t think we deserved to win the game.
“We turned over a lot of pucks, and when you do that against a skilled team like Chicago, you’re going to play in your end most of the night.”
The hosts got off to a solid start, drawing a couple of early penalties on the Wolves and carrying the play for the first eight or nine minutes of the game. But while the power play moved the puck effectively at times, they couldn’t squeeze a shot past Lack.
Midway through the first period, Chicago took over. The Wolves’ forward corps boasts a nice mix of speed and muscle, and they gave the Heat fits, cycling the puck in the offensive zone for long stretches.
The Wolves’ ownership of the game spilled over into the middle frame, and the Heat owed a massive debt of gratitude to Taylor for keeping them in it. The goalie, making his third consecutive start to open the campaign, came up with a sparkling stop on Bill Sweatt from point-blank range, then made a reflexive blocker save on Steve Pinizzotto’s one-timer.
The Wolves finally got to Taylor at 9:45 of the second. Andrew Ebbett spotted Zack Kassian steaming down the left wing and banked a slick pass off the side boards into his path. Kassian, with Heat defenceman T.J. Brodie caught flat-footed, broke in alone on Taylor and snapped home a blocker-side shot.
The Heat finally found some traction in the third. Tyler Ruegsegger, on the power play, knotted the score at the 2:06 mark, tipping Krys Kolanos’s point shot past Lack for his first career AHL goal.
Nathan Longpre restored the Wolves’ lead less than two minutes later, as a two-on-two rush devolved into a goalmouth scramble. Longpre tracked down the loose puck and chopped it past Taylor.
But shortly thereafter, Heat rookie phenom Sven Baertschi dangled his way around Chris Tanev, and forced the Canucks regular to haul him down. On the ensuing man advantage, Ben Walter fired a hard pass to Roman Horak in the slot, and he redirected it home for his third goal in three games.
Then it was the 6’5″ Lack’s turn to stand tall. He came up with a pair of massive breakaway stops on Baertschi and Horak to keep his team level.
Overtime solved nothing, and in the shootout, Taylor ran into some trouble. He tried poke checks on the Wolves’ first two shooters – Jordan Schroeder and Darren Haydar – and got caught in no-man’s land. Both players beat him five-hole.
At the other end, Lack was busy stoning Ben Street, Baertschi and Kolanos – all of whom seemed obsessed with squeezing the puck between his legs. Taylor stopped Sweatt, but Kassian finished off the Heat with a deke to the backhand.
Afterward, Wolves coach Scott Arniel lauded the play of Kassian, a 6’3″, 214-pound right winger who is expected to be a huge part of the Canucks’ future. He was a physical presence all night and got the best of Heat middleweight defenceman Joe Piskula in a second-period scrap.
“That’s a power forward game,” Arniel said. “I’ve seen it in spurts . . . but not like that for three periods here, where he dominated. As you see, he gets a lot of room. People don’t really want to go in corners when he’s out there. He’s a handful to hold onto when he’s playing that game, and he showed his skill, too.”
Heat coach Troy Ward felt some of the Wolves’ mojo could be attributed to playing on Wednesday, while his squad seemed “a step behind” after six days between games.
“It’s our third game of the year – it’s still exhibition, the way I look at it,” he said, alluding to the fact the Heat didn’t have any preseason contests.
“We just have to play harder. I didn’t think we competed very hard. I thought we had a lot of guys on the perimeter.”
Walter extolled the play of Taylor, who made 30 saves during regulation/OT.
“We owe that point to him, for sure,” Walter said. “He kept us in it in the first two periods. They really had some chances, had some opportunities, and he came up big.”
Baertschi was held off the scoresheet after racking up four points in two games vs. Peoria last weekend, but he was dangerous throughout, and Arniel had high praise for him afterward.
“He is a dynamic player,” Arniel said. “He darts in and out of holes and can make plays. He’s obviously a real good young prospect. I’m sure he’ll be real good once he gets to the next level.”
• The Heat (2-0-1) and Wolves (4-0-0) renew hostilities on Saturday (7 p.m., AESC). The game will be broadcast live on Sportsnet One, and there will be a post-game concert by local band Fighting for Ithaca.
• The Heat went 2-for-4 on the power play on Friday, and now boast the top man-advantage unit in the AHL. They’re 5-for-13 this season (38.5 per cent).
• The Heat made a pair of lineup changes, as forward Akim Aliu and blueliner Joe Callahan were added at the expense of Quintin Laing and Brady Lamb. In goal, Barry Brust once again backed up Taylor, with Leland Irving a healthy scratch.
• Heat right winger Lance Bouma had a highlight-reel hit on Wolves defenceman Peter Andersson, but he limped to the locker room favouring his right leg late in the second period.
“He won’t play tomorrow, I know that, from what I can tell as this point,” Ward said.