Rough ride for goalie Ortio in prospects tourney opener

Joni Ortio's preseason debut was a bit of a nightmare, but the young goalie from Finland says it won't cost him any sleep.

Flames forward Max Reinhart winds up for a slapshot on a first-period breakaway

Joni Ortio’s preseason debut was a bit of a nightmare, but the young goalie from Finland says it won’t cost him any sleep.

Ortio, expected to slot in as the Abbotsford Heat’s backup goalie this season behind incumbent starter Leland Irving, was between the pipes for the entirety of the Calgary Flames prospects squad’s 6-1 defeat at the hands of the San Jose Sharks to open the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton on Sunday evening.

Along the way, the 20-year-old keeper allowed at least three goals he’d probably like to have back. On other occasions, he was simply the victim of horrendous bounces.

While Ortio plans to learn from his mistakes, he also knows a short memory is sometimes a goalie’s best friend.

“Just go through the goals and forget about it,” said Ortio, when asked afterward about how he’d work through the rough outing.

“For me, mistakes, there’s no good thing going to come out of just worrying about the goals and all that other stuff. You just go through it, and forget it.”

The first two shots Ortio saw on Sunday went in. On the first goal, the Finnish rookie was caught out of his crease, and Sharks forward Joe Antilla took a centering feed with a yawning cage in front of him. Antilla slammed the puck off the far post, but Charles Inglis followed up and beat Ortio with a wrist shot at the 3:13 mark.

Just over two minutes later, Michael Sgarbossa made it 2-0, cruising down the right wing on the rush and picking the top corner over Ortio’s blocker.

At the other end of the ice, Chilliwack native Thomas Heemskerk was sparkling in the Sharks crease. Flames forward Max Reinhart turned on the afterburners to earn a shorthanded breakaway, but Heemskerk stoned him on both the initial shot and the rebound. Shortly thereafter, the Sharks keeper stood his ground to deny John Negrin from point-blank range.

Heemskerk turned aside all 26 shots he faced over a period and a half of work, before giving way to J.P. Anderson.

Meanwhile, a pair of gaffes by blueliners who played for the Heat last season greased the skids for the Sharks to double their lead in the middle frame.

On a Sharks rush, T.J. Brodie got turned around in the neutral zone, allowing San Jose forward Trevor Cheek to sneak through and slip a soft backhander under Ortio’s arm at the 7:46 mark.

Late in the frame, Chris Breen’s defensive-zone turnover allowed Curt Gogol to break in alone and roof the puck on Ortio.

In the third period, San Jose’s Brodie Reid and Sena Acolatse scored to stretch the lead to 6-0, before former Chilliwack Bruins standout Roman Horak scored on a penalty shot to get the Flames on the board in the late going.

Afterward, Ortio’s teammates were quick to leap to his defence.

“They (the goals) weren’t his fault,” Brodie asserted. “We didn’t help him out too much.”

“I think we left him out to dry all the time,” centre Mitch Wahl analyzed. “We gave away quality chances that shouldn’t have been there.”

The preseason is a time for every player to shake off a summer’s worth of rust, but Ortio’s early growth curve might be steeper than those of his teammates. After learning the game on the larger Olympic-size ice surfaces of Europe, transitioning to the smaller North American rinks is a tricky endeavor.

“I just felt my timing was off, and I was off of my angles,” said Ortio, a sixth-round pick by the Flames in 2009 who served as Finland’s starting goalie at the last two World Junior Championships. “That’s the main thing, when you come to a smaller rink. I think it’s going to be fairly quick to get used to that. At least, I hope so.”

There were positive signs for the Flames youngsters – they carried the play for much of the game and outshot the Sharks 39-23, though it should be noted Calgary dressed a much more experienced lineup than did San Jose.

“As a whole, I didn’t mind it,” said Heat head coach Troy Ward, who oversaw the Flames’ bench. “The things we taught prior to the game in the last day and a half, I thought we did some good things in those areas. I thought the areas we didn’t work on very much, we probably got exposed there.”

WAHL WORKING HIS WAY BACK

Sunday’s game represented Mitch Wahl’s first game action since January, and while he didn’t turn in the type of performance he’d envisioned, simply getting on the ice with his teammates was a positive step.

“It was nice,” said Wahl, who centered a line with Greg Nemisz and Lance Bouma. “It wasn’t the start I was looking for personally, but it was nice to get back on the ice and get back in a high-tempo game. I haven’t done that in a long time.”

Wahl’s 2010-11 campaign with the Heat was more or less a write-off – the Seal Beach, Calif. native missed all but 17 games after sustaining multiple facial fractures and a concussion on massive hit from Manitoba Moose forward Aaron Volpatti.

Ward said he sensed that Wahl was “a little bit off” on Sunday.

“I think he’s trying to get his game back,” the Heat bench boss analyzed. “He’s got to get up on his toes and want the puck a little more.

“He kind of spectated, but that’s kind of natural, too. As much as he said he felt good, and it’s the best he’s felt in a long time, I thought his energy . . . wasn’t as great as it needs to be.”

BANCKS BATTLING

Heat fan favourite Carter Bancks turned some heads in the second period when he dropped the gloves with Ben Thomson in an effort to spark his team.

Considering Bancks (generously listed at 5’11”, 180 pounds) was giving up plenty of size against Thomson (6’4″, 205 pounds), and considering he’s coming off a season where he missed 51 games with concussion issues, the decision to scrap might have seemed a bit reckless.

But that’s just how Bancks rolls. In his very first game back from the concussion last season, the diminutive sparkplug came to the defence of a teammate and dropped the mitts with Manitoba’s Yann Sauve.

“I’ve got to stick with what I know and what’s gotten me to this point,” he explained. “I’ve got to go out there and play hard, and it’s not like I’m trying to fight everyone, but I tried to spark the team a little bit.

“It was a little bit of frustration, too. I pictured this going a lot better for our team – we’ve got a really good team.”

FLAMES FACE CANUCKS MONDAY

The Flames prospects take on the tournament host Vancouver Canucks on Monday. The puck drops at 4 p.m. at the South Okanagan Events Centre.

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