Abbotsford Heat head coach Troy Ward is a man of many metaphors, and he’s frequently gone with a public transit motif when discussing his team this season.
He’s waxed eloquent on the need to get his power-play personnel “in the right seats” on the bus, and occasionally bemoaned “a lot of empty seats on the bus” when the general performance isn’t up to snuff.
To extend the metaphor, it’s become clear over the first two-plus months of the season that the Heat are at their best with Joni Ortio in the driver’s seat and Ben Street riding shotgun. Or vice versa.
The duo led the way once again on Saturday evening, steering the Heat to a 5-2 victory over the San Antonio Rampage to complete a weekend sweep at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
Goaltender Ortio turned aside 27 shots en route to first star honours, improving his record to 11-1 on the season.
Street, the AHL’s player of the month for November, has continued his red-hot production into December. His team-leading 14th goal of the season was the pivotal one on Saturday, coming as it did with 27 seconds left in the second period and snapping a 1-1 deadlock.
The Heat cruised from there, boosting their record to 19-6-2 for an AHL-best 40 points.
“The word I would use is, he’s just a complete player,” Ward said of Street. “If you watch our game out there . . . Ben looks like a man compared to the rest. I mean that in the way of posture, his shift-to-shift consistency, and he’s just as good with the puck as he is without it.”
Ben Hanowski, Mark Cundari, Markus Granlund and Max Reinhart (into an empty net) also scored for the Heat, while Brett Olson and Michael Ferland picked up two assists apiece.
Granlund, with his 10th goal of the season, extended his points streak to nine games, during which he’s posted five goals and seven assists.
Ortio, who struggled in his first crack at North American pro hockey with the Heat in 2011-12, has come back a new man after a stellar season in his native Finland with HIFK Helsinki.
“I’m just an overall better goalie,” he said. “That last year helped me a lot – I played 70-plus games back home, and that really teaches you something . . . My game is much more calm right now, and this time around, I knew what to expect.”
Ward noted that Ortio had to make “critical saves at critical times” on Saturday.
“We’re obviously very confident in Joni back there, and he’s very confident,” he said. “We feel that if we’re out of position and we’re not in a proper posture we’d like to be in defensively, we feel like he’s had our back most of the year.”
• The Heat went 2-for-3 on the power play and sit second in the AHL with a 25.8 per cent success rate.
• Abby centre Carter Bancks was sidelined Saturday with a stiff neck sustained on a hit the previous evening. To fill his bottom-six role, the Heat called up Brendan Connolly from the ECHL’s Alaska Aces and sent Peter Sivak down.
“He’s a heart-and-soul type guy – he’s one of the leaders in Alaska,” Ward said of Connolly, who was in the lineup Saturday.
• Heat blueliner Chad Billins, with an assist on Street’s goal, moved into a tie with T.J. Brennan of the Toronto Marlies for first in points among AHL defencemen with 23.
• Street’s 14 goals are third-most in the league, trailing only Colton Sceviour of the Texas Stars (18) and Matt Fraser of the Providence Bruins (16).
• The Heat host a rare Wednesday-Thursday set this week vs. the Iowa Wild (7 p.m. both nights, AESC).