For Jon Rheault, finding out he’s the Abbotsford Heat’s new career scoring leader was a little bit like discovering an extra present under the Christmas tree.
In the wake of a three-assist outing in a 5-3 win over the Texas Stars on Thursday evening, Rheault was asked how he felt about setting the record.
He responded with a blank stare, apparently having missed the announcement over the public address system.
Informed that his 63 points as a member of the Heat had eclipsed previous record holder Cam Cunning (60 points), Rheault’s eyebrows arched.
“Oh, you’re kidding,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s awesome – it’s a great organization, and I’m obviously happy about it. I had no idea, though.”
As franchise scoring records go, the Heat’s was relatively low-hanging fruit – a product of the team’s less-than-three-year tenure and the fact they’ve been a traditionally low-scoring outfit.
But it was still a special accomplishment for Rheault, who joined the Heat late in their inaugural 2009-10 campaign. The speedy winger came into Thursday’s game tied with Cunning, then surpassed him with an assist on Krys Kolanos’s first-period goal. He went on to notch two more helpers, along with a +4 rating, in an energetic performance after missing the previous three games with a lower-body injury.
“He’s been a big part of this organization since he got here,” Heat head coach Troy Ward noted. “It’s a mark of consistency for Jon.
“I think Jon is a guy who takes care of himself mentally and physically, so he gives himself a chance to do that. Good for him. I’m very proud of him.”
The Heat wrapped up a win in their first game after the Christmas break, but it didn’t come easy against a Stars team that wasn’t as rusty after playing on Tuesday evening. The visitors boasted a 45-29 edge in shots, and the Heat required a frequently heroic performance from goalie Danny Taylor.
“Ever since he got here, he’s been pretty phenomenal, and tonight was no exception,” noted Abby defenceman Chris Breen, whose second-period goal stood up as the game winner.
Scott Glennie gave the Stars an early lead at 3:59 of the first period, as his shot on the rush went off Heat defender John Negrin and deflected over the blocker of Taylor.
Quintin Laing leveled the score less than three minutes later on the power play. Stationed at the top of the crease, the Heat captain banged a feed from Kolanos off the post and in.
Kolanos gave the Heat a lead at 11:35 of the first, as his wrap-around caught Stars goalie Tyler Beskorowany by surprise.
The Stars had plenty of good looks at Taylor, but the Heat keeper stood tall. Early in the second period, he made a lovely glove save on Colton Sceviour, who had unleashed a wrist shot on the rush. Then he kicked out his left pad to stone Matt Fraser on a breakaway.
The Stars got to him at the 4:48 mark of the middle frame, as Sceviour, from close range, swept the puck between the legs of the Heat goalie.
Newcomer Akim Aliu, obtained on loan from the Winnipeg Jets organization on Wednesday, scored his first goal as a member of the Heat just past the midway point of the period. He made like Tim Duncan, banking in a shot off Beskorowany from behind the goal line.
After the Stars’ Stephen Schultz knotted the score yet again, Breen restored the hosts’ lead with his first goal of the season at 15:56 of the second. The towering 6’7″ blueliner’s point shot, off a faceoff win by Kolanos, hit a Stars defender in front and found its way in. It marked Breen’s first goal since March 25 of last season, against the Manitoba Moose.
Taylor came up with another big save just past the midway point of the third, as he plucked a rising wrist shot by Travis Morin with his glove.
Shortly thereafter, Rheault and Guillaume Desbiens escaped on a two-on-one break, and Desbiens ripped a glove-side shot off the post and in to give the Heat their first two-goal lead of the night. The goal, just his second of the season, was surely a relief to Desbiens.
The Heat improved to 21-9-2-0, good for second in both the AHL’s West Division and overall standings. Texas (14-15-0-1) is fifth in the West. The two teams renew hostilities on Friday evening (7 p.m., Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre).
• Kolanos, with a goal and two assists, moved up to seventh in the AHL scoring race with 33 points (16 goals, 17 assists) in just 23 games.
• The Heat improved to 8-0 when scoring at least four goals this season.
• Judd Blackwater, signed to a PTO by the Heat on Thursday morning, made his debut. The ECHL’s second-leading scorer (38 points in 31 games with the Las Vegas Wranglers) turned in a solid performance skating on a line with Ryan Howse and Desbiens.
“I think we’re fortunate to have him,” Ward said of Blackwater. “He plays a skill game, and he’s got a little jam.
“I will say this – his character shone through. When it was time to block a shot, that kid went down and blocked it. That says a lot about that young man.”
• As for Aliu, Ward wasn’t thrilled at the two minor penalties he took. But the Heat bench boss appreciated the blend of size and speed the former Chicago Blackhawks second-round pick brought to the table.
“There’s an asset there – he’s a high draft pick who has some speed and some size,” Ward said. “He’s going to have to play a role here he’s never embraced before – he’s going to have to learn to be a checker for me first. If he can learn to check and play smart and play with some discipline, I think he’ll be a big part of our team.”