In the Darwinian world of the AHL preseason, Brett Olson knows what it takes to succeed.
Coming into his second pro campaign this fall, he’s taking nothing for granted, as evidenced by his terrific performance on Sunday evening as the Heat thumped the Utica Comets 5-2 in their lone exhibition game at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
Olson’s line, which featured Ben Hanowski on the right wing and Peter Sivak on the left, was dominant throughout and had a hand in all five of the home team’s goals.
“Last year coming into camp, it was something where I had to earn my spot, and you kind of learn from that experience to compete day in and day out,” Olson said afterward, reflecting on his preseason approach.
“Then you know that every year you go into it, there’s a chance that you might not be able to stick around if somebody takes your spot. There’s a lot of new guys competing – there’s a fresh new group from junior and a fresh new group from college every year that’s looking for a place to play. So it’s very competitive.”
Olson got the Heat off on the right foot against the Vancouver Canucks’ new AHL affiliate – just 1:34 into the first period, he pounced on the rebound off an initial shot by Hanowski and chipped the puck past Comets goalie Joacim Eriksson.
Sivak made it 2-0 midway through the frame, knocking in his own rebound, and Hanowski bulged the twine on the power play three minutes later, hammering home a slap shot from the hashmarks.
Sivak set up the Heat’s fourth goal, spotting defenceman Dean Arsene sneaking in from the point at 9:28 of the second, and Hanowski rounded out the scoring with 39 seconds left in the third, into an empty net.
All told, the Sivek-Olson-Hanowski trio combined for eight points.
“I thought that they complimented each other well,” Heat head coach Troy Ward said. “Their chemistry I thought was driven a little bit by Olson in the middle because he’s kind of the vet down here. He understood the game and the pace, and I thought he did a good job with his two wingers.”
Joni Ortio and Laurent Brossoit split the goaltending duties for the Heat, with Ortio getting the start and Brossoit replacing him at 9:28 of the second period.
Their stat lines ended up looking remarkably similar – Ortio stopped eight of nine shots, while Brossoit turned aside seven of eight.
Both had their moments. Ortio was at his best in the opening minute, as the Comets generated a couple off good looks at him early. Brossoit had the save of the night just after he entered the game, going right to left and extending his pad to deny Zach Hamill of a sure goal.
ROLLER-COASTER EVENING FOR ARSENE
Abbotsford native Dean Arsene, in Heat camp on a tryout, had his night cut short on a scary-looking play.
Late in the second period, Comets forward Darren Archibald pasted him into the boards in the neutral zone – an absolutely titanic check which sent the 33-year-old blueliner to the locker room. He did not return.
Until that point, Arsene had been having a tremendous night – in addition to his goal, he had a first-period fight with Utica tough guy Mitch Elliot, who had decked Heat centre David Eddy.
Ward said Arsene received several stitches to close a facial laceration, likely caused by his own helmet as he hit the boards. The Heat bench boss was optimistic that the defenceman didn’t sustain a concussion, but that had yet to be determined.
“He looks like the guy on Jaws – he’s got a bandage around his head and all that right now,” Ward said. “Tough break for him, but I thought he worked extremely hard, I thought he was doing great. It’s just unfortunate but hopefully like the vet he is, I’m sure he’ll bounce back quickly.”
The fists were flying on Sunday night – there were seven fights in all, and three players (Utica’s Elliot and Jesse Mychan, and Abby’s Brett Lyon) were ejected for being involved in three apiece.
“We stood up for each other and that was really encouraging,” Ward said. “When you’ve got a young group of kids that are feeling their way through, I like how they stuck together.”
TOCHKIN MAKES HIMSELF AT HOME
The Comets’ goals came from Alex Biega (on a five-on-three power play at 17:35 of the first) and Kellan Tochkin (at 18:24 of the second).
Tochkin, an Abbotsford native, made the most of the opportunity to play in his hometown, earning third star honours. His goal came after he’d finished serving a minor penalty – upon stepping out of the box, he was sprung on a breakaway by Archibald and made no mistake, flicking a glove-side wrist shot past Brossoit.
“I don’t know where I’m going to be (playing) this year, so it’s pretty special to have mom and dad be able to watch me in the town that I grew up in,” the 22-year-old forward said. “I had some friends out there too, and some family members. It was a lot of fun.”
Tochkin, who signed with the Canucks as a free agent in 2009 after leading all WHL rookies in scoring with the Everett Silvertips, spent the 2012-13 season with the MIssouri Mavericks of the Central Hockey League where he posted 44 points (15 goals and 29 assists) in 56 games.
He’s heading into the last season of his entry-level deal with the Canucks, and as such, is focused on earning a spot with the Comets.
“I think tonight was a step in the right direction for me, coming from the Central league last year,” he said.
“I think there’s more (for me) to give, and I just have to show them that.”