Lane MacDermid is better known for what he does when his gloves are lying on the ice than when he’s actually wearing them, but on Saturday evening, the tough guy was an offensive difference-maker for the Abbotsford Heat.
MacDermid’s third-period goal stood up as the game-winner as the Heat beat the Oklahoma City Barons 4-2 to wrap up a sweep of a two-game set at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
“Any time you score a goal it makes you feel good that you can contribute to the team,” said MacDermid, whose goal was his first in 11 AHL games this season. “And it was a third-period goal that helped the guys get the win.”
MacDermid’s statistical profile in 260 previous AHL games over parts of five seasons features a plethora of penalty minutes (534) and fights (64) to go with just 18 goals.
But at 10:31 of the final frame on Saturday, with the Heat nursing a 2-1 lead, MacDermid showed some deft finish, chipping a sweet feed from Carter Bancks over the left pad of Barons goalie Richard Bachman.
The goal proved pivotal, as OKC forward Curtis Hamilton notched his second of the night just 15 seconds later to quickly pare the Heat lead back to one. But Abbotsford would prevail, with goalie Joni Ortio making 32 saves for his AHL-leading 15th win of the season and Sven Baertschi supplying an insurance marker on the power play with 1:17 remaining in regulation.
“Any time you get something (offensively) from (fourth-liners) Carter and Lane and Turner (Elson), they work so hard and they do all the physical things, and they’re usually people we don’t come in here and talk about a lot,” Heat head coach Troy Ward noted, reflecting on MacDermid’s goal.
“But they’re players who, at the end of the year, get you where you want to be because they’re big and they’re physical, they’re not afraid, and they get after people. For them to be rewarded and for Lane to get his first goal as an Abbotsford Heat player, I was real happy for them. They’ve been working extremely hard.”
Ward said it’s a priority for him to help MacDermid, a 6’3″, 205-pound winger who was acquired from the Dallas Stars in a trade on Nov. 22, to expand his offensive skill set. Toughness is still a commodity in the NHL, but it’s growing ever more difficult for players who traffick strictly in fisticuffs to find big-league employment.
“One of the reasons we think he can go play up there is his size and he’s got a little push-back, and he’ll protect his teammates,” Ward said. “But in order to stay up there and not just have a cup of coffee, usually what would derail a player like that is that they’re not doing something offensively. In today’s game, you’ve got to do both.
“We’ve told him since we’ve acquired him that we have to work on his offensive game. We’ve put a lot of time into that, we’ve put a lot of video into that, and for him to get rewarded, it was a good thing.”
“He (Ward) is a great teacher and he’s trying to help me along with my offensive game,” MacDermid said. “I may have meshed myself into a certain role but to branch out and work on my game would be good.”
Baertschi, by way of contrast, is looked upon as a potentially elite offensive player, but goals have been tough to come by for him this season. He had just two in 26 NHL games with the Calgary Flames before being sent down to Abbotsford on Dec. 12, and he didn’t muster a point in his first four contests with the Heat.
He broke through in the late going on Saturday, converting on a slick centring pass from Corban Knight.
“It was pretty important for me,” said Baertschi. “It’s been quite the grind. I’ve been getting a lot of shots, chances, and our line (with Markus Granlund and Brett Olson) has created a lot of chances but the goals just weren’t there. But tonight, with Granny getting one and me getting one, that’s going to give us some confidence.”
Baertschi acknowledged it was “tough” to deal with being demoted to the AHL, but said he’s been working hard to stay positive.
“It’s something that I guess as a pro athlete you’ve got to deal with,” he reasoned. “There are up and downs in sports. The last thing I wanted to do this year was be back here but that’s the way it worked out.
“For me, it’s important that since the guys were doing so well here that I didn’t want to come in and be all negative that I got sent down. It was important I stay positive and want to be part of the group. Usually when the team’s playing well and you’re winning it’s a better spotlight on you.”
Ward said Baertschi has dealt with being sent down “really well” and described him as “a joy to coach,” but noted that generating offence has been a struggle for the 21-year-old Swiss left winger. Part of that, he said, has to do with the fact that the AHL game is more chaotic than the NHL, where the level of system execution is higher.
“American League hockey is more of a rat race,” Ward said. “Coming down here in your development as a player, you’ve got to develop hard, you’ve got to get over pucks. In some ways, he’s behind some of our guys.
“He’s trying to get all that back into form again, and that’s going to take some time. I’m happy with him, I’m not disappointed.
“Some other guys . . . are making more plays than Sven right now. But he’s also got to understand, and we all understand within the organization, we’re trying to develop the (complete) hockey player.”
The Barons (11-17-5) took the play to the Heat (23-9-2) in the early going on Saturday – they opened the scoring at 7:49 of the first when Hamilton whacked a rebound out of the air past Ortio, and came close to doubling that lead when defenceman Brad Hunt hammered a slap shot off the crossbar.
But the Heat hung around long enough for Markus Granlund to level the score on a fantastic individual effort late in the first period. On a one-on-one rush, he made a move to his left, then fired home a top-corner wrist shot against the grain.
The Heat took their first lead of the night on a second-period power play, as Ben Street slipped a cross-crease pass to Knight for a tap-in.
Knight, a rookie centre, had gotten off to a terrific start to the season (11 points in his first 11 games), but he later endured a stretch in November where he registered just a goal and an assist in 10 games. He’s regained his scoring touch, though – his two-point outing on Saturday gave him eight points (two goals, six assists) in the past seven tilts.
“I think that’s just hockey – there are some times where you’re just snakebit,” he analyzed. “I was working hard, but things just weren’t coming. For me tonight and the last couple games, I’ve been playing with some pretty good players, and the power play, we’ve been making stuff happen.
“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to the guys I’ve been playing with – they’ve been making my job easy and giving me plays that I can capitalize on.”
The Heat are back in action on home ice next week, hosting the Hamilton Bulldogs in a Friday-Saturday set at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre (7 p.m. start both nights).