Playing before 5,000 fans at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre on Tuesday evening, the Abbotsford Heat saw a spirited comeback fall short against the Chicago Wolves.
The hosts spotted the Vancouver Canucks’ farm team a 3-0 lead, then clawed their way back into it with goals by Ben Walter and Carter Bancks in the latter half of the third period.
But the Wolves weathered a late Abbotsford power play and escaped with a 3-2 victory.
Afterward, the Heat were left to rue their stumbling start.
“It’s all about the start,” defenceman Clay Wilson noted. “To be down 3-0 against a team like that, it’s not likely you’re going to come back and win the game. We’ve got to come out like we did in the third, and play a full 60 minutes that way.”
For the first 53 minutes of the game, the dual storylines were the stellar play of Wolves goalie Matt Climie, and the dominance of Chicago’s Mark Mancari-Steve Reinprecht-Anton Rodin forward trio.
Climie was fashioning as solid a night as a goalie can hope to have, carrying a shutout into the waning minutes while also picking up an assist.
The Reinprecht line took care of the offence – they accounted for all three Wolves goals, and combined for seven points.
“We’ve played together for a while,” said Mancari, who picked up first star honours after notching a goal and two assists. “Some nights your line clicks, some nights other lines click. Tonight it was our turn, and I’m just glad we could contribute like we did.”
Reinprecht scored twice in the opening frame, which was largely dominated by the guests. He opened the scoring at the 8:53 mark, snapping a shot between Heat goalie Danny Taylor’s pads off a drop pass from Rodin.
Late in the frame, just after a Heat power play expired, Reinprecht drove hard to the net on the rush, and Mancari whipped in a pass that he simply had to tap into the open net.
The Wolves out-shot the Heat 14-7 through 20 minutes, but the Heat had a couple of high-quality looks at Climie. The keeper was up to the task, though – he turned aside Ben Walter’s one-timer from the slot off a feed from Krys Kolanos, and later kicked out the left pad to stone Robby Dee on the doorstep.
The Heat managed a modest moral victory after Reinprecht’s second goal, as enforcer Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond laid a thorough beatdown on Wolves blueliner Adam Polasek. The fight (pictured right) began at the Heat blue line, but finished with PL3 raining down blows on poor Polasek at the Wolves blue line, leaving arena staff to scrape the Chicago player’s blood off the ice. Polasek missed the entire second period, but returned in the third wearing a full face shield.
The Heat directed 18 shots at Climie in the middle frame, but none made it through. Mancari, meanwhile, notched his third point of the night at the 4:06 mark, picking the top corner over Taylor’s glove on the rush.
Kolanos had been a healthy scratch last Saturday when the Heat faced the Charlotte Checkers, and the all-star winger was a motivated individual on Tuesday against the Wolves, registering a game-high nine shots.
But Climie seemed to have Kolanos’s number for much of the night, and on the one occasion when the Heat’s leading scorer did get the puck did get past him, Wolves defenceman Nolan Baumgartner had his back. Early in the third period, Kolanos unleashed a sharp-angle shot that hit Climie’s shoulder and bounced over him, but Baumgartner batted the puck out of the air with his glove before it could cross the line.
The Heat finally got on the board with 6:37 remaining – ironically, off a Kolanos shot that missed the net. The puck caromed off the end boards to Walter, who put a sharp-angle shot past Climie.
Exactly two minutes later, Bancks drew the Heat to within a goal, lobbing a shot from the high slot through a crowd that found the top corner.
Shortly thereafter, Climie made a huge stop on Judd Blackwater on a three-on-two rush to preserve the lead.
Then, with 1:36 left, Wolves forward Antoine Roussel took a terrible high-sticking penalty, whacking Guillaume Desbiens in the nose to give the Heat a golden chance to equalize.
But it was not to be, as the Wolves largely kept the Heat on the perimetre.
In the aftermath, Troy Ward, the Heat’s ever-quotable head coach, compared the budding rivalry between the Heat and Wolves to a war. He then proceed to entertain the assembled media horde by paraphrasing a verse from the English folk ballad Sir Andrew Barton.
“We’re hurt, but we’re not slain. We’re bleeding, we’ll lay down awhile, then we’ll get up and we’ll rise again,” Ward recited.
“And we will tomorrow. Tomorrow will be a different game, and I’m sure they (the Wolves) think the same thing.”
The Heat fell to 25-15-3-0 on the season, while the Wolves (22-16-1-3) picked up a momentum-shifting victory, as they snapped a four-game losing streak.
“We had some bad meltdowns (in the third period),” Mancari noted. “But the good thing is, we came out with a win.”
• The Heat will have reinforcements for Wednesday’s rematch with the Wolves (7 p.m., AESC), as rookie centre Roman Horak was reassigned to Abbotsford by the NHL parent Calgary Flames on Tuesday evening. The precocious 20-year-old posted nine points in 41 games with the Flames, and notched an assist during a short two-game stint with the Heat earlier this season.
• The Canucks’ farm team typically has the support of about half the crowd when they play in Abbotsford, and Reinprecht said it was a unique road environment.
“It’s pretty special,” he said, reflecting on being cheered on the road. “A lot of guys who were with (the Manitoba Moose) last year said it was pretty neat . . . We were looking forward to it.”
• Facing the Wolves represents a special match-up for Desbiens – he suited up for Chicago from 2005-08, and played with many of the Wolves’ current crop of Canucks prospects with the Manitoba Moose from 2008-11.
“There’s a lot of guys in that organization that I know very well, so it’s exciting,” Desbiens said afterward, his nostrils stuffed with gauze courtesy Roussel’s high stick. “At the same time, it’s disappointing to lose to them. You want to prove you’ve moved up and you’re a better player and you’re on a better team. But they played better than us tonight.”