At the end of every Abbotsford Heat practice, the players and coaches gather in a circle and clap their sticks on the ice twice, in unison.
On Wednesday, Heat head coach Troy Ward asked goalie Danny Taylor to lead the team-bonding tradition. Taylor, having just joined the Abbotsford club the previous Friday, had no idea what was going on, and the ritual’s usual sharp double-staccato devolved into a halfhearted patter.
The group broke down laughing, and Taylor caught some good-natured ribbing from his new teammates for botching the protocol.
“I can’t even explained what went on there,” Taylor said with a chuckle afterward. “Coach told me to do something, and I guess I messed it up pretty bad. I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it the next time around.”
Sorting out the cultural quirks are all part of the package when joining a new team, and Taylor has plenty of experience in that transition game.
The Heat are the 11th franchise the 26-year-old netminder has suited up for since turning pro prior to the 2006-07 season. That lengthy roll call includes five teams in the ECHL and four in the AHL, plus a stint in Germany with the Hamburg Freezers (2010-11) and a single NHL game with the Los Angeles Kings in March of 2008.
This past week, in particular, has been a whirlwind for Taylor.
Last Tuesday, Nov. 29, Taylor suddenly found himself at loose ends after being released by the Springfield Falcons – a product of the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets returning highly touted youngster Allen York to their AHL affiliate.
On Friday, Taylor was signed by the Heat. Sunday afternoon, he made his first start with Abbotsford, stopping 25 shots in a 3-1 road win against the Chicago Wolves. And by Sunday evening, he had a clear path to regular playing time, after workhorse starter Leland Irving was recalled by the Calgary Flames.
Taylor will share the Heat’s goaltending chores with youngster Joni Ortio for the foreseeable future – the Flames announced Wednesday that their regular backup, Henrik Karlsson, will be out six to eight weeks with a high-grade MCL tear in his right knee, thus monopolizing Irving’s time for the better part of two months.
“It’s been a crazy week,” noted Taylor, who was 5-3-0 with a 2.58 goals against average and a .914 save percentage with Springfield. “I didn’t expect to get released – I was kind of blindsided, and it was tough on me.
“I was really hopeful it would work out (with Abbotsford), because other than that, I think I’d be back over in Europe. I’m thankful this opportunity came my way.”
Taylor’s bio contains another unique line item, aside from the number of teams he’s played for – he was born in Plymouth, England.
“My dad is actually Canadian, but he was in the British army for a number of years, and that’s how he met my mom over in England,” he explained. “We moved to Ottawa when I was two.”
The impetus for signing Taylor initially was to bring in an experienced backup to spell Irving, and it’s likely that Ortio would have seen some time in the ECHL if not for Karlsson’s injury.
Ward’s first impression of Taylor has been positive.
“I thought he was very calm,” the Heat bench boss said, reflecting on Taylor’s start in Chicago. “He looked like he’d been in that position recently with other teams and other situations.
“It’s like any kid who grows up with parents in the military. They travel and live in different places all the time, and it seems like by the time they’re 10, they’re pretty well acclimated to life. Change is easy. And it seemed like for Taylor, change is easy for him.”
VAN DER GULIK LEADS MONSTERS
Abbotsford native David Van der Gulik makes a homecoming this weekend, as his Lake Erie Monsters face the Heat in a Friday-Saturday set at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre. The puck drops at 7 p.m. both nights.
Van der Gulik, a former Flames prospect, played for the Heat during their inaugural season, 2009-10, finishing second in team scoring with 40 points in 64 games. He joined the Colorado Avalanche organization as a free agent in the summer of 2010.
Van der Gulik is off to a terrific start – he leads the Monsters with 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in 19 games.
The Monsters (11-11-1-1) stumbled out of the gate this season, dropping their first six games, but they’ve been terrific of late. The improvement has coincided with the return of goalie Cedrick Desjardins from injury – he’s posted a league-best 1.46 goals against average and a .946 save percentage in eight appearances.
FOURTH LINE EFFECTIVE
The Heat come into the weekend on a three-game win streak, and it’s safe to say that during the trio of victories, nobody messed with Gaelan Patterson.
That’s because the speedy sophomore centre was skating on a line with Raitis Ivanans and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond – both bona fide heavyweight enforcers.
“Patterson, or anybody in that situation, is going to feel pretty comfortable,” Ward noted with a chuckle. “That’s the best our fourth line has played all year, and those have been some of our better wins – when we’ve had a fourth line identity.”
Ivanans was able to draw into the lineup after defenceman Joe Piskula was recalled by the Flames last week – thereby opening up a veteran spot for the rugged Latvian. Ward said Ivanans has “deserved every minute he gets here.”
“He’s probably one of our hardest-working guys,” Ward said. “He’s an incredible pro.”
HEAT AIM FOR HOME-ICE IMPROVEMENT
During current Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff’s playing days, it used to be said that he was Ruff at home, but Lindy on the road.
Ward alluded to that old hockey wisecrack in analyzing his team’s divergent home/road results this season. Whereas Ruff was criticized for playing softer on the road than at home, the Heat have been the opposite this season, posting a subpar 2-5-1-0 record at home, but a sparkling 14-3-0-0 mark away from the AESC.
“We’ve been tough on the road, but softer at home,” Ward acknowledged. “(At home) we think we’re going to try to win this the cool way versus the hard way.”
Ward believes that in part, his team hasn’t forged a home-ice identity because they simply haven’t played many home games – they’ve had more than twice as many road dates to this point of the season.
“I think our identity will change and grow at home, as it has on the road, when we get multiple reps at home,” he said. “It’s not going to change until then.
“And I’m okay with that. That’s schedule-based.”
‘A SAD PART OF THE BUSINESS’
Ward said it was tough to wave goodbye to veteran forward Stefan Meyer, who was reassigned to Farjestad BK of the Swedish Elite League on Monday.
Meyer suited up for 16 NHL games with the Flames last season, but this fall he became a casualty of the AHL’s development rule – each team is allowed to dress no more than five players who have played more than 260 professional games. The Fox Valley, Sask. native couldn’t crack the Heat’s veteran-laden lineup after a slow start to the season (zero points in six games).
“It’s a sad part of the business,” Ward said. “That’s as high a quality guy as we’ve got in the room – an unbelievable person, and a tremendous guy. I don’t like to see the way I had to manage it out. But the bottom line is, we’re in a business, and we had to do what’s right for the business. And that was the business decision at that point in time.”
Forward Carter Bancks (hand) and defenceman James Martin (broken finger) are expected to be out until after Christmas.
“Those guys are still weeks away,” Ward said.