Abbotsford Heat 2011-12 season preview

By David Thicke
Photo: Although he didn't make the NHL roster, Sven Baertschi was extremely impressive in training camp for Calgary. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)


For the second consecutive season, the Abbotsford Heat lost tons of man games due to injury. Combined with call-ups to the Calgary Flames, not to mention having one of the youngest teams in the AHL, and the Heat finished just five points outside a playoff berth. The team suffered from a major lack of scoring and a 27th ranked power play this past season. They received solid defense and excellent goaltending while playing a more disciplined game from their inaugural 2009-10 season and improved their penalty killing from 25th ranked to 11th in 2010-11. This off-season, the Flames' General Manager, Jay Feaster, went out and made some important roster moves that have added more skilled players and organizational depth. The Heat presently have 41 players at their Abbotsford training camp and will have five more late cuts from the Flames added when Calgary reduces its roster to 23 before the start of the 2011-12 NHL season. This is the first time that the Heat will have enough depth where the players will be fighting for a starting line-up position or be re-assigned to the ECHL Utah Grizzlies.

If the Abbotsford Heat can stay relatively healthy and improve their offensive output, they could be one of the top AHL teams in the league while easily making the playoffs.

Forwards

The forwards will have Greg Nemisz looking to improve on his rookie numbers while hoping to play with a play-making centerman for the whole season. Returning from injuries, Carter Bancks, Mitch Wahl hope to contribute to the team's offense for the whole season. The Heat will be looking for Bryan Cameron to regain his scoring touch from his final OHL junior season where he scored 53 goals.

Jonathan Rhealt, Quintan Laing and Ben Walter will bring veteran leadership as well as some more offensive punch to the Heat's attack.

Abbotsford will look to Ryan Howse, a 51 goal scorer in the WHL last season, playing his rookie season in the AHL to add to their offense this year. Lance Bouma and Paul Byron were re-assigned to the Heat on Sept 30, 2011. Byron scored 26 goals along with 27 assists in 67 AHL game for the Portland Pirates last season. Bouma scored 12 goals but also adds grit, energy and character to the Heat.

Defensemen

Christopher Breen, T.J Brodie, and Brendan Mikkelson failed to impress the Flames' coaching staff at training camp and they were assigned back to the Heat to start the season. John Negrin is trying to regain his overall game after two knee surgeries to repair a broken kneecap.

Jordan Henry and Derek Smith are still in training camp; one of the two could start the season with the Flames while Brett Carson is out with a back problem. They will add veteran presence on the blue line for the Heat.

Goaltending

Leland Irving was arguably the team's MVP last season setting career highs with 30 wins, eight shutouts and started 61 AHL games. Irving's 30 wins were second among all goaltenders and his eight shutouts was a league-best. He is returning as the starting goaltender for the Heat but could be re-assigned as a back-up to the Flames if there are any injuries to Kiprusoff or Karlsson.

Joni Ortio will definitely be Irving's backup while he adjusts to the North American style of play and the angles of the smaller rinks. This will be the rookie Finn's first full season at the AHL level but he should provide better depth as a backup than last season.

Coaching

Troy Ward was an assistant coach last season with the Heat but took over as the head coach when Jim Playfair left to become an assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes. He will bring continuity to the team's development for the coming season along with new assistant coaches, Luke Strand, Cail MacLean, and Jordan Sigalet as the goaltending coach. Strand and MacLean have extensive coaching experience which will help to improve the young prospects of the Heat and bring new ideas to the organization.

Prospects

Roman Horak is still getting a chance to make an impression on the Flames' coaching staff while seeing NHL preseason action. Horak is a very offensively skilled centerman who could help the Heat with their scoring production this season if he fails to make the Flames' lineup out of training camp.

The two recent prospects to be re-assigned to the Heat, Lance Bouma and Paul Byron, both had some NHL experience last season. Byron was acquired in the Regher trade with Chris Butler from Buffalo and needed to outplay one of the veterans to win a spot. Calgary's salary cap issues and no movement clauses make it difficult for the younger prospects to make the Flames starting roster. There could still be changes to the Flames roster over the season if some players fail to perform, others perform better in the AHL or player trades are made at the NHL level in Calgary.

James Martin and Turner Elson played well enough to receive an entry-level contract after an invitation to the Young Stars tournament and Calgary's training camp but Martin was assigned to the Heat while Elson was returned to his junior team (Red Deer Rebels).

Sven Baertschi and Max Reinhart were clearly the best of the young prospects that were returned to their junior teams. Baertschi showed why he was selected in the first round by the Flames with his offensive skills, speed, grit and solid two-way play during the Young Stars tournament and the preseason NHL games. Reinhart showed his overall game and hockey smarts while developing some instant chemistry with Baetrtschi and Holland at the Young Stars Tournament. The re-assigning of Baertschi and Reinhart will only help in their development to being NHL stars with Calgary in the future.

Patrick Holland, Michael Ferland, Joey Leach showed notable improvement to their games at the Young Stars and the preseason NHL games that they played in before being sent back to their junior clubs.

C.J. Severyn and Dustin Sylvester were both signed to AHL level contracts with the Abbotsford Heat which had similar conditions to last season's deals made with Carter Bancks and Joe Piskula. Justin Dowling impressed the Flames' coaching staff enough to get an invite to training camp and a chance to make the Heat this season.