Ben Walter’s brand of metronome-like consistency isn’t the stuff headlines are usually made of.
The Abbotsford Heat centre’s particular skills – playmaking and conscientious two-way play – tend to make those around him better. But he’s so reliable night in and night out, it’s sometimes easy to take him for granted.
So, on the occasion of Walter’s 500th AHL game, let’s pause and appreciate him.
The 28-year-old celebrated the milestone in style, scoring a goal in the Heat’s dominant 6-2 victory over the Peoria Rivermen on Saturday at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
“It’s gone by really fast,” said Walter, who has racked up 413 points with the Providence Bruins, Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Lowell Devils, Lake Erie Monsters and the Heat.
“It just makes you sit back and look at your career so far, and you don’t get to do that too often. It’s been a pleasure. I’ve been around some really good people in the hockey world, and hopefully I can play as many more games as I can.”
The Heat were coming off a 4-1 victory in Friday’s season opener, but it was far from a flawless performance – they mustered just 16 shots on goal, though they certainly made the most of their chances.
They rectified that issue on Saturday, peppering Rivermen goalie Jake Allen with 17 shots in the first period alone, en route to a 33-19 edge on the evening.
It was Peoria, though, who grabbed the early lead, with goals by Anthony Peluso and Sergey Andronov sandwiching a tally by Abby’s Lance Bouma.
Walter knotted the score at 14:16 of the first, knocking Sven Baertschi’s rebound past Allen.
Just before the opening frame was up, Baertschi electrified the crowd with a spectacular goal. On the power play, he took a pass from T.J. Brodie at the right faceoff dot and one-timed a laser beam of a slap shot that screamed over Allen’s shoulder into the top corner.
“Those type of goals, you just kind of go, ‘Wow,'” Heat head coach Troy Ward marvelled. “All of us do. That’s the gift of the American Hockey League right now.
“You pay however much you pay to come to this game, and you’re like, ‘Can I see NHL-type goals?’ Well, that’s an NHL-type goal from an NHL-type player. It’s a real pleasure to have that type of talent in the American Hockey League.”
The Heat exploded in the second period, as goals by Roman Horak, Dustin Sylvester and Krys Kolanos essentially put the contest out of reach.
The hosts kept pouring it on in the final frame, and the count could have been even more lopsided if Allen hadn’t made sparkling saves on Kolanos and Horak.
“I think everyone was . . . wondering how we were going to come out after (having) no exhibition games,” Walter noted. “But it just shows the group of guys we have right now, and how hard we’ve worked.
“We have a lot of guys who can score or set up goals, and it’s nice. It doesn’t put pressure on any one or two guys. We have a lot of young guys in there who want to show what they can do and get going.
“And you’ve got a guy like Sven – he’s dynamic and fun to play with. I think guys feed off those younger guys with their energy.”
Baertschi, the Flames’ top prospect, now has four points in his first two AHL games. It’s probably no coincidence that all of them have come after he was moved onto a line centred by Walter midway through the second period on Friday.
Ward, reflecting on Walter’s 500th game, lauded the veteran’s character.
“When you endure in this business, in order to have a lot of people pulling for you, you have to have a special quality to who you are as a person,” Ward said. “I think it speaks to his day-to-day life, how he carries himself. I’m real happy for him.
“He’s found a little niche with Baertschi and Sylvester right now, they have a little magic. But I think Ben put himself in a position to be there. He trained hard this summer, and I think it shows. It’s a great lesson for young pros. Here’s a guy who’s more towards the end of his career after playing 500 games, and he’s in phenomenal shape right now.”
Brodie picked up three assists while playing big minutes on the Heat blueline. Ward said that taking on a larger role in the AHL during the NHL lockout should be a boon to the mobile defenceman’s development.
“He can really work on his offensive game,” Ward said. “It’s great for his development, for the longevity of his career.
“He gives us the only player back there who has that type of (offensive) mojo – the rest are more like ham-and-eggers. But T.J. has to grow, let’s make no mistake about it.”
• After sitting out Friday’s season opener due to the Heat’s surplus of veterans, Kolanos made his season debut on Saturday. His insertion came at the expense of veteran defender Joe Callahan. Winger Carter Bancks and blue liner Brady Lamb were also added to the lineup, while Akim Aliu and Adam Estoclet were scratched.
• Ward kept the status quo in goal, starting Taylor for the second straight night with Barry Brust serving as the backup and Leland Irving watching from the press box. “It’s Danny’s net right now,” Ward explained.
• Brett Olson’s assist on Horak’s goal was the first point of his AHL career.
• Attendance was 2,416.
• The Heat are back in action on home ice next weekend, when they host the Chicago Wolves, the Vancouver Canucks’ affiliate, in a Friday-Saturday set (7 p.m. both nights, AESC).