With the Calgary Flames potentially in need of a goalie, Joni Ortio served notice that he’s ready.
The Abbotsford Heat netminder backstopped his squad to a weekend sweep of the Hamilton Bulldogs, posting a 34-save shutout in Friday’s 6-0 triumph and following that up by stopping 26 of 27 shots in a 4-1 win Saturday.
Flames keeper Karri Ramo departed Saturday’s game vs. the Minnesota Wild with a lower-body injury of uncertain severity, and the possibility exists that Ortio could be summoned for his first career NHL stint.
And if it ends up that injury attrition opens the door, he’s still richly deserving – the 22-year-old Finn is second in the league with 19 wins, to go with a 2.08 goals against average and a .930 save percentage (third-best in the AHL in both departments).
“It could have been better,” Ortio joked after Saturday’s win, reflecting on the lone puck that got past him on the weekend.
“It felt good. You get into that zone when you feel like, ‘Bring it on,’ and they’re not going to beat me with a shot that I can see. That’s pretty much how I felt.”
On Saturday, the Heat picked up where they left off the night before, out-shooting the Bulldogs 14-4 during a dominant opening frame. They built a 2-0 lead, and could have easily had a couple more.
Max Reinhart opened the scoring at the 7:56 mark, whacking a rebound off Markus Granlund’s initial shot between the legs of Hamilton goalie Robert Mayer on the power play.
Rookie winger Josh Jooris, with his second goal in as many nights, made it 2-0 in the final minute of the frame – on a broken play on the rush, the puck squirted through to him, and he flicked a shot over Mayer’s outstretched pad.
After a scoreless second period, Granlund gave the Heat a three-goal cushion with a shorthanded goal early in the third. Carter Bancks forced a turnover at the Heat blue line and got away with Granlund on a two-on-one break, then fed a lovely saucer pass over to the rookie sensation for his 19th goal of the season.
Stefan Fournier spoiled Ortio’s bid for back-to-back shutouts, tipping a shot past him at 7:41 of the third, but the Heat keeper held the fort from there, and Derek Smith rounded out the scoring with an empty-netter.
Afterward, Jooris termed Ortio’s performance over the two games “unbelievable.”
“He has a competitive edge to him that I think sets him aside from other goalies,” Jooris said. “You see him battling in the crease – he doesn’t like when other guy comes there, he’s whacking him. That gives our team confidence knowing that we have a real competitive goalie back there. He stood on his head and kept us in games this weekend.”
Granlund’s goal was the Heat’s third shorthanded marker in five games since head coach Troy Ward started using two of his top offensive players – Granlund and Corban Knight – on the penalty kill and authorizing them to attack when they’ve got possession.
Prior to that philosophical shift, the Heat were the only team in the league without a shorthanded tally this season. It’s also sparked better results in terms of keeping the puck out of their own net – they’ve killed off 23 of 24 opponents’ power plays over the past five games.
“The only thing I can attribute it to is . . . being a little more offensive-minded,” Ward said. “It changes the complexion of the offensive team.”
The Bulldogs’ power play, meanwhile, has not scored in its last 32 chances – they went 0-for-7 on Saturday – and that’s just one element of a team-wide slump. The Montreal Canadiens affiliate has won just once in its last six games, having mustered just three goals in the five losses.
The Heat improved to 28-14-4, while Hamilton slips back to the .500 mark at 20-20-4.
• Enforcer Trevor Gillies, signed on Thursday, made his Heat debut on Saturday, drawing into the lineup as Ben Hanowski was a healthy scratch. He registered one shot on goal while skating on the fourth line with Bancks and Lane MacDermid.
“He gave us some life and some energy on the bench,” Ward said. “He’s a pretty mature man – he’s been through the wars.”
• Up next, the Heat host the Charlotte Checkers in a Tuesday-Wednesday set (7 p.m. both nights, Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre).