The Abbotsford Heat‘s 3-1 triumph over the Toronto Marlies on Sunday afternoon was devoid of any playoff implications for the home side, but it was a game that Carter Rowney won’t soon forget.
The 22-year-old forward, signed to an amateur tryout contract last week out of the University of North Dakota, notched the first goal of his fledgling professional career in the second period, sparking the Heat to victory before a crowd of 5,043 at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sport Centre.
Afterward, the wattage of Rowney’s grin could have powered the Las Vegas strip.
“I was able to get a nice pass from (Krys) Kolanos, and I chose not to one-time it because the goalie came out,” he said, describing his milestone goal which came at 14:42 of the second period. “And then I saw a little pocket over his pad and under his glove there and I was lucky enough it went in.
“I was kind of shocked, stunned, I didn’t know what to do. There’s a lot of excitement to get that first one out of the way and off your back.”
The Toronto Maples Leafs affiliate, clearly irritated in the wake of their 3-0 loss to the Heat on Friday, mustered some vintage Brian Burke-era truculence as the game took on a nasty physical edge. There were three fights and numerous big hits over the first half of the contest, but no goals.
The most notable play during that stretch saw the Marlies knock Heat starting goalie Danny Taylor out of the game midway through the second period.
Toronto forward Greg McKegg, battling with Heat blueliner Steve Seigo on his way to the net, barrelled over Taylor. The puck went in, but the apparent goal was waved off and McKegg was assessed a goalie interference penalty.
Taylor, on his knees when the collision happened, was bent over backward awkwardly and went straight to the dressing room favouring his left leg. Backup Barry Brust came on in relief.
Heat head coach Troy Ward indicated post-game that Taylor’s injury didn’t appear to be overly serious, but it’s unlikely that he will suit up for either of the Heat’s two remaining regular season dates, next Friday and Saturday at the Oklahoma City Barons.
“I can tell just by the way he’s moving in there and what’s going on . . . which is disappointing,” Ward said. “The hope is, when (the season) is done, that there would be a few guys who would go up (to Calgary) next Sunday. You would hope he’d get another shot, but I don’t know if that will come to fruition.”
Brad Ross, a thorn in the Heat’s side all game, opened the scoring at 14:31 of the second, gathering in a stretch pass from Dylan Yeo and snapping a low shot that found the bottom corner behind Brust.
But just 11 seconds later, Rowney broke through, taking a slick backhand feed from Kolanos and snapping it past Marlies keeper Drew MacIntyre.
Tyler Ruegsegger‘s goal at 10:35 of the final frame – his third in three games – would stand up as the game-winner. On the rush, he came swooping into the slot and fired a scorcher of a wrist shot between MacIntyre’s legs.
Heat captain Quintin Laing rounded out the scoring, hitting the empty net from inside his own blue line with 10.1 seconds remaining.
Abbotsford defenceman Mark Cundari, acquired by the Calgary Flames in the Jay Bouwmeester trade last week, assisted on all three goals and dropped the gloves with Ross in the melee following the Taylor collision in the second period.
“Toronto came out very physical,” Laing said afterward. “They weren’t happy with their result on Friday so they showed it early and we handled it well.
“Guys really stepped up – (Drew) MacKenzie and Mark (Cundari) and a few guys that aren’t known for their fists. And Testy (Mike Testwuide) getting in there. Guys were really sticking up for each other tonight. That was great to see, especially with a lot of new guys in the lineup.”
• The Heat handed out their team awards during a pregame ceremony. Ben Walter was the big winner, taking home the MVP and fan choice trophies. T.J. Brodie (top defenceman), Sven Baertschi (top rookie) and Zach McKelvie (community player of the year) were the other award winners.
• Heat centre Paul Byron made his return to the lineup after missing eight weeks with a broken left hand, while defenceman Connor Hardowa (signed to an amateur tryout contract last week) made his AHL debut.
• The Heat won’t make the playoffs, but it’s hard to find fault with what they accomplished on home ice this season. Sunday’s win gave them 23 victories at the AESC this season – a new franchise record. It’s their road record which will keep them out of the post-season – they’re 11-18-7 away from home for 29 points, second-fewest in the AHL.