November 27, 2012
AHL Heat success breeds NHL Flames success
By WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency
CALGARY - The Abbotsford Heat don’t have a single guy on the first page of the AHL’s point-production charts.
Nobody from the Calgary Flames’ top affiliate is being mentioned among the best blueliners on the minor-league loop.
And although feel-good goaltending story Barry Brust is leading several puck-stopping categories, he’s not even under contract with the parent club.
The Flames prospects are, however, setting the pace in one important category — victories as a team — and that’s gotta be a good omen for the future at the Saddledome, right?
“I think winning really helps develop young guys,” said Heat captain Quintin Laing, who has 79 NHL outings on his stat-sheet, mostly from a stint with the Washington Capitals, and is currently signed to an AHL-level deal.
“You want young guys knowing what it takes to win close games, having that pressure on you in a one-goal game and pulling that out. So I think, for the development of a player, it helps to be in a winning environment, just so they know that feeling and they get that sour taste in their mouth when they lose.
“And you can tell that with us right now. These young guys, they don’t want to lose. They want to be on a winning team.”
With Friday’s home tilt against the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Heat will officially hit the quarter-poll of the AHL season, and it’s been a heck of a run so far. In fact, the squad has suffered only two defeats in regulation and sits atop the league standings with a 12-2-2-2 mark.
Swiss winger Sven Baertschi is still considered the only can’t-miss kid in the Heat lineup, but history suggests Flames fans have legitimate reason to be excited about the success of their top affiliate.
During the 2004-05 campaign, when NHL arenas remained dark for the full winter, eight AHL squads collected 100-plus points. The following season, seven of those same NHL organizations hit triple digits in the big-league standings. That total included both the Flames and the Carolina Hurricanes, who split a farm club in Lowell, Mass., where the roster featured Mark Giordano and future Hurricanes stars Eric Staal and Cam Ward.
“Winning in an organization helps from top to bottom,” said Heat head coach Troy Ward. “I think winning in the NHL helps your minor-league team, and I think winning with your minor-league team just helps the foundation of your organization …
“I think that the foundation moving forward is that we’re winning, and winning breeds winning.”
There isn’t a lot of immediate help in Abbotsford — Baertschi, T.J. Brodie and Roman Horak are the only certain candidates to be recalled by the parent Flames once the lockout ends — but that also means Ward’s roster won’t be picked over if the NHL and the NHLPA suddenly strike labour peace.
For the rest of the AHL, the scary part is Ward expects more from his group. Only four skaters have hit double-digits in points through 18 games, but the Heat have been beneficiaries of solid goaltending, a stingy penalty-kill and solid team efforts.
“I really feel like we have some individuals that aren’t playing good night now. Based on pedigree and what they’re supposed to be doing, we have some players that aren’t really cutting it,” Ward added. “But we’re winning as a team. That’s why we’re winning.”
1. LW Johnny Gaudreau
The Boston College Eagles sophomore sniper has emerged as an early favourite for the Hobey Baker Award. After racking up two goals and three helpers in Saturday’s 6-3 win over Dartmouth, the 5-foot-8 sparkplug ranks fourth in the NCAA’s scoring race with 19 points in 11 outings.
2. G Jon Gillies
Not much gets past this guy. A freshman netminder for the Providence Friars, Gillies recorded a 35-save shutout over the crosstown-rival Brown Bears in the Mayor’s Cup. A third-rounder in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, it was his second goose-egg of the season.
3. D Chris Breen
Not known for his offensive pizzazz, the 23-year-old Abbotsford Heat blueliner buried the overtime winner in Friday’s 3-2 triumph over the Texas Stars — his second goal in a four-game stretch. Breen scored just once in 2011-12.
He’s not under contract with the Flames organization, but Heat backstop Barry Brust deserves the pub. The former Hitmen goalie, who is signed to an AHL-only deal with Abbotsford, logged 268 minutes and 17 seconds without surrendering a goal, erasing a 54-year-old AHL record belonging to some guy named Johnny Bower.
“It was kind of like Heinz ketchup — it was anticipation. It took a while to get there, but usually when it comes out of the bottle, it’s pretty good stuff.”
— Heat head coach Troy Ward on G Barry Brust, who had a nine-day layoff between starts before breaking Bower’s record