In the wake of his team’s uninspired performance in a 4-1 loss to the Texas Stars on Sunday afternoon, Abbotsford Heat head coach Troy Ward offered a stinging four-word indictment of what his squad was missing on this day.
“Enthusiasm. Heart. Passion. Character,” Ward spat during the post-game press conference, when asked to put his finger on what went wrong.
“It’s the reason you first put on a pair of skates – because you love the game, because you have passion. It’s why you wanted your mom to take you to the rink at six in the morning. It’s why you want to skate outside on an outdoor rink.
“They forgot the essence of why you play the game – to have have fun. They didn’t have much fun today.”
The Stars carried the play for much of the first two periods, but weren’t able to solve Heat goalie Leland Irving until the 12:47 mark of the middle frame, when Francis Wathier tipped in Brad Lukowich’s point shot on the power play.
Stars goalie Tyler Beskorowany, meanwhile, was thwarting the Heat’s best scoring chances with his glove hand. On a three-on-one break, Heat defenceman Clay Wilson jumped into the rush and took a drop pass from Hugh Jessiman, but Beskorowany got his mitt on Wilson’s hard wrister.
On another Heat rush later in the second period, Beskorowany snared Greg Nemisz’s shot after Carter Bancks feathered him a pass in the slot.
The Heat finally got the biscuit behind Beskorowany 34 seconds into the third, as Wilson redirected in a feed from Krys Kolanos on a man-advantage situation.
But then the wheels fell off for the Heat, as the Stars popped three pucks past Irving in quick succession. First, it was Colton Sceviour taking a cross-ice pass from Scott Glennie on the power play and beating Irving with a glove-side wrist shot.
Texas tough guy Luke Gazdic took over from there, tallying twice to round out the scoring.
“We came out flat, and we finished flat,” analyzed Wilson, who was the best of the Heat bunch on Sunday. “It was a tough night.”
Abbotsford’s penalty kill has been lights-out for much of the year – they came in ranked second overall in the AHL at 85.9 per cent. But they’ve now surrendered at least one power-play goal in five of their last six games.
The Stars’ third-ranked power play, meanwhile, lived up to its advance billing, going 2-for-6 on man-advantage chances on Sunday.
“We knew they had a great power play, and we wanted them to stay off it,” Nemisz noted. “But we gave them too many chances, and our PK wasn’t there.”
Ward pointed out that the Heat’s PK has been much better on the road (88.5 per cent, first overall) than at home (81.0, 23rd) this season.
“That’s why our record is what it is at home,” Ward said, alluding to his team’s mediocre 11-12-3-0 mark at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
The Heat (31-22-3-2) are fifth in the Western Conference, while Texas (25-28-2-2) is still in the basement after splitting the two-game weekend set.
• The Heat host their inaugural school day game vs. the Houston Aeros on Tuesday morning, with the opening faceoff at 10:30 a.m.
The game was initially designed as a field trip for middle school students in the Abbotsford school district. But with teachers expected to be on strike from Monday to Wednesday, throwing a wrench into those plans, the hockey team is extending the $10 ticket price for middle school students to fans of all ages. Parents who bring four or more kids will be admitted for free. The AESC will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., with post-game activities for kids.
• Heat captain Quintin Laing and assistant captain Joe Piskula were among the healthy scratches on Sunday, a product of AHL veteran restrictions. Teams are only allowed to dress five veteran skaters (players who have played more than 260 professional games), and the Heat have nine such players. It’s quite a juggling act for Ward, and he hinted the lineup will look different on Tuesday after Sunday’s rough outing.