News and notes: Playoff picture bleak, but no quit in Heat

The Abbotsford Heat are aiming to keep their playoff hopes alive this weekend as they host the Grand Rapids Griffins.

A pair of midweek losses to Hamilton knocked Ryan MacMurchy (left) and the Heat off the pace in the playoff race.

A pair of midweek losses to Hamilton knocked Ryan MacMurchy (left) and the Heat off the pace in the playoff race.

The Abbotsford Heat are responding to their precarious position in the playoff race in a manner that recalls Jim Carrey’s character from the comedy flick Dumb and Dumber.

Told by a winsome lass that his chances of ending up with her were no more than one in a million, Carrey’s face lit up: “So you’re sayin’ there’s a chance!”

The Heat’s playoff prospects, in comparison to the odds Carrey was quoted, aren’t nearly so bleak. They are, however, rather unfavourable.

In the wake of a pair of midweek losses to the Hamilton Bulldogs, Abbotsford’s AHLers find themselves spinning their wheels in sixth place in the North Division, nine points in arrears of Hamilton for the division’s third and final guaranteed post-season spot.

The Heat are also five points back of the Peoria Rivermen, the fifth-place team in the West Division, who are in position to claim the North’s fourth playoff berth in the crossover format.

With just seven games remaining in the regular season, the gap is wide and time is short. According to the website sportsclubstats.com, the Heat are just a 2.5 per cent longshot to qualify for the Calder Cup playoffs heading into Friday’s home-ice tilt with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

But a chance, however slim, is still a chance, and it seems unlikely that there will be any quit in Jim Playfair’s blue-collar crew.

“Hey, we’re still in the playoff race,” the Heat head coach pointed out. “I don’t question our group’s compete or work ethic. They’ve got great character, and they’re really committed to being a team that prides itself in trying to outwork the opposition.”

The Heat’s commitment to hard work has been evident even during their recent four-game losing streak, during which they’ve out-shot opponents by double-digit margins in each contest.

Playfair said his team needs to work smarter to generate more offence, with a particular focus on creating traffic in front of the opposing crease.

“I think that’s our biggest issue right now – goaltenders are seeing far too many shots, and we’re not getting enough second and third opportunities around the net,” he said.

“If we can clean that up and bring the same amount of energy and continue to focus on putting pucks to the net, we’ll find a way to score more goals.”

BANCKS HAS BEEN MONEY

Playfair had high praise for Carter Bancks, who returned to the Heat lineup last week after missing a total of 51 games due to a concussion.

The gritty rookie forward has three points over his past four outings, and even dropped the gloves in his first game back.

“If we’d had Carter Bancks all along . . . we’d probably be first in our division,” Playfair said. “He’s that much of an impact player.”

KOTALIK BACK WITH HEAT

The Calgary Flames sent Ales Kotalik back to the Heat on Thursday afternoon.

The 32-year-old winger from the Czech Republic posted a goal and two assists during his recent six-game stint with Calgary. He was re-assigned to Abbotsford in order to clear salary cap space for veteran centre Daymond Langkow, who is coming off the long-term injured reserve.

In 18 AHL games with the Heat this season, Kotalik has 19 points.

FINNISH GOALIE IN THE MIX

The Flames signed goaltending prospect Joni Ortio to an entry level contract earlier in the week, and he joined the Heat in Hamilton on Wednesday.

Calgary’s sixth-round pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft, Ortio has served as the starting goalie for Team Finland at the last two World Junior Championships. He posted sparkling stats (1.86 goals against average, .931 save percentage) at the most recent World Juniors in Buffalo.

Playfair indicated Ortio might not suit up for the Heat this weekend, due to the fact he hasn’t played in a while.

“But we’ll see him at some point in time before the end of the year, for sure,” the Heat bench boss said. “He’s an exciting kid. He’s got some credentials, and we want to see how he develops and shapes up in the pro game.”

IRVING READY TO ROLL

No. 1 goalie Leland Irving could be back in the Heat crease on Friday evening against Grand Rapids. He’s missed the past five games with a groin injury.

“I think he’s ready,” Playfair said. “He’s going to take the pregame skate in the morning, and I think he’s going to play tomorrow night for us.”

LOCAL KEEPER EARNS ALL-STAR NOD

Aldergrove-born netminder Brad Thiessen has been named a first team AHL all-star.

The Mennonite Educational Institute grad is putting the finishing touches on a spectacular season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. His 32 wins, seven shutouts and 1.88 goals-against average are tops in the league.