The most impressive aspect of the Abbotsford Heat‘s six-goal outburst on Wednesday evening was the ease with which they accomplished it.
The Iowa Wild came in with a reputation as a reasonably sound defensive hockey club, but the Heat carved them up with the surgical efficiency of a Greg Maddux pitching performance – they needed just 26 shots to light up the Wild in a 6-2 victory.
All of the goals were of the high-quality, well-earned variety, with the exception of Markus Granlund’s semi-greasy second-period marker, wherein Kane Lafranchise’s point shot bounced off the end boards directly to the rookie centre at the post for a tap-in.
Other than that, the announced crowd of 1,409 was treated to open-net finishes off sweet passes (goals by Ben Street, Greg Nemisz and Brett Olson), top-shelf snipes (Street’s second goal of the game in the second period), and clinical two-on-one execution (Michael Ferland from Olson).
“Tonight was one of those nights where we had some puck savvy to us,” Heat head coach Troy Ward acknowledged.
“There’s some kids that can finish. We’re younger than we’ve been in my four years here . . . and we’re more skilled than we have been. And so far this year, we’ve matured as a team. They’ve shown that they can score.”
The Heat, winners of three straight, boosted their record to 20-6-2 for an AHL-best 42 points. Their offensive numbers are equally impressive – they’re fourth in the league in goals per game (3.6) and sit second in power-play efficiency (26.8 per cent) after a 2-for-3 night with the man advantage.
They came staggering out of the gate on Wednesday during a defence-optional first period where goals came fast and furious. The Wild twice seized the lead – Erik Haula opened the scoring just 1:04 into the game, and after Ferland equalized, Brett Bulmer came back with a power-play goal.
But that was the last time Heat goalie Joni Ortio would let the puck past him, and the hosts added goals from Street and Nemisz to take a 3-2 lead into the first intermission.
“I was kind of boisterous after the first couple (Wild goals) – we really had some bad breakdowns,” Ward said. “You can’t really fault Ortio on either one of them, to be honest with you. I felt bad for him . . . it was like, ‘Here we go, it’s a 6-5 shootout, potentially one of these games.’
“But then I thought we settled in a little bit. The critical juncture for me was, we scored that third goal. Once we got up 3-2, we kind of relaxed a little bit and we settled in and I thought we played a little bit better defensively.”
Nemisz, playing in his 200th career AHL game, had his goal at 14:55 of the first stand up as the game-winner. He redirected a terrific feed from Corban Knight past Wild goalie Johan Gustafsson.
“It’s something to be proud of – it’s not easy to play 200 professional games,” Nemisz said, reflecting on the milestone.
“We were a little opportunistic tonight, we made some good plays. All in all, I don’t think we played as well as we wanted to but we definitely had luck tonight.”
Lafranchise, playing in his fifth game of the season for Abbotsford, thought he might have had his first career AHL goal – it wasn’t initially clear whether Granlund had tipped the puck in, and Ferland retrieved the puck from the net just in case. As it turned out, Granlund was given credit.
“It’s up for debate,” joked Lafranchise, who finished with two assists.
“If Granny touched it, great. If not, that’s the way you want to score your first one, I guess – ugly.”
Granlund, who also had an assist on Ferland’s goal, extended his points streak to 10 games, having registered six goals and eight assists in that span. It’s the AHL’s longest active streak, and the third-longest in the league this season.
• Heat forward Max Reinhart was scratched from the lineup on Wednesday as he was attending to a personal matter, Ward said.
• The Heat and Wild (8-13-1) clash again on Thursday evening at the AESC (7 p.m. start).