Ortio was run over in his crease on two occasions and was peppered with 37 shots by the Barons, who are battling for their playoff lives.
But the Finnish netminder, named to the AHL all-rookie team earlier in the week, made 35 saves – several of the spectacular variety – en route to first star honours in a 3-2 Heat victory at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
“It’s part of the game and I kind of like it,” Ortio said with a chuckle, reflecting on collisions with OKC’s Greg Chase in the first period and Connor Jones in the third. “It gets me pumped up when guys bump into me – when I can maybe sneak in a jab or something.
“It was a physical game but I thought we responded pretty well. We were physical and working hard and that’s where it all starts. We didn’t play smart today but we played hard.”
Indeed, while the Heat ended up being outshot 37-19 for the game, they got off to a hyper-efficient start offensively, scoring on their first two shots on Barons goalie Richard Bachman.
Brett Olson opened the scoring 1:29 in, via a pretty set-up from Corey Locke. The veteran centre dangled into the Barons zone and threaded a slick pass through to Olson in the goalmouth, and he lifted a backhander over Bachman.
Derek Smith made it 2-0 at the 5:34 mark, gaining the zone and hammering a slap shot past Bachman from the top of the left circle.
“I probably shouldn’t have shot it on net,” Smith said with a wry grin. “But I got lucky and sometimes it’s good to be lucky.”
The Barons got one back on a power play early in the second period, as Matthew Ford tipped C.J. Stretch’s shot past Ortio.
Ex-Heat forward Roman Horak picked up the secondary assist on Ford’s goal, and he had a golden opportunity to draw his team even on a breakaway shortly thereafter. But Ortio squeezed the pads to stymie his five-hole attempt.
Blair Jones gave the Heat a measure of insurance at 7:32 of the third, taking a drop pass from Ben Street at the hashmarks and picking the bottom corner on Bachman.
Jones’s goal proved pivotal, as OKC defenceman Taylor Fedun’s point shot banked in off a player in front of the net with 2:22 left in the third period.
The Barons pulled their goalie at that point and spent the balance of the game buzzing in the Heat zone, but Ortio kept them at bay. OKC’s Andrew Miller had a great look off a faceoff in the dying seconds, but the Heat keeper kicked out the right pad to deny his one-timer.
“I knew the guy was there, but I didn’t see the shot,” said Ortio. “Thank God he didn’t get it high enough, over my pad. That’s the way it goes – sometimes it goes in, sometimes not. Thankfully tonight was the night it didn’t go in.”
Smith suggested that apart from Ortio’s theatrics, the Heat would not have won.
“For the third game in a row we got outplayed so we’re lucky our skilled guys are getting goals when we need them,” said Smith. “We really need to tighten up defensively and stop turning pucks over because we’re putting a lot of pressure on our D and goalies. If we want to continue winning it’s going to have to change.”
The Heat improved to 40-25-7 for 92 points, good for fifth in the Western Conference, while the Barons (33-28-11, 77 points) are clinging to the eighth and final playoff slot. The ninth-place Charlotte Checkers also have 77 points, but Oklahoma City has one game in hand.
Abbotsford and OKC lock horns again on Sunday afternoon (1 p.m., AESC) in the Heat’s final home game of the season.
The Heat have won three games in a row and five of their past six, but they’ve been outshot decisively over the first three games of their current homestand.
Head coach Troy Ward said he’s not thrilled with the shots disparity, but said that a good number of the shots the Heat have surrendered of late have come from the perimeter.
“It does give us a simple red flag, that’s what I told the team,” he said.
“It’s got to get corrected, and we’ve got to take our time to do it. We took some strides to go in that direction (on Friday), and then there were times we didn’t. Not consistent, I guess, is the word.”
Friday’s game marked the pro debut for a pair of 2013 first round draft choices – Barons defenceman Darnell Nurse (seventh overall) and Heat left winger Morgan Klimchuk (28th overall).
Nurse finished -2 for the night with three shots on goal, while Klimchuk failed to register a shot while posting a +1 rating.
“I don’t know if Morgan ever really had his legs or really got going,” Ward said. “I just took it for what it was. I think he did a good job.
“He didn’t get a lot done offensively, but we didn’t as a group in general at times. I thought it was a good first game for him. It’s one of those games where you’ve got to clean out everything from your past and start fresh. I was happy for him . . . and he’ll only get better.”
• Heat defenceman Brett Kulak, with the secondary assist on Olson’s goal, registered his first point as a pro.
• The Edmonton Oilers’ brass was out in full force at the AESC on Friday to check in on their AHL affiliate. President of hockey operations Kevin Lowe, general manager Craig MacTavish and head coach Dallas Eakins were part of the contingent. The Oilers play the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.