2013-14 American Hockey League Season Previews
Coaching Staff: Troy G. Ward, head coach; Robbie Ftorek, assistant coach
Affiliates: Calgary Flames (NHL), Alaska Aces (ECHL)
Record: 34-32-4-6 (78 points)
Conference finish: 12th overall
Calder Cup Playoffs: did not qualify
The Abbotsford Heat were one of the hottest professional teams in the world during the NHL’s lockout, posting a strong record and being as many as 10 games over .500 throughout much of the first chunk of the season. However, on January 13, the NHL lockout ended and the Flames recalled players for a mini training camp – including Heat stars T.J. Brodie, Roman Horak and Sven Baertschi. At the time, the Heat had a 17-12-3-4 record. For the remainder of the season, the Heat posted a 17-20-1-2 record.
The reason? No Brodie for the rest of the year, no Horak for most of the rest of the year (he returned for a two-week stint in late January) and no Sven Baertschi for much of the year. Removing the Heat’s biggest puck distributor, best goal-scorer and best all-around offensive weapon – along with veteran blueliner Steve McCarthy, who didn’t get a job in Calgary and returned to Switzerland’s ZSC Lions – basically gutted the team. Another huge factor in the club’s drift in the New Year was the fact that the club was missing Lance Bouma, arguably the team’s heart and soul, for basically the entire season due to a knee injury suffered in the third game.
The instability in net also contributed to the up-and-down year: the club rotated through Barry Brust, Danny Taylor and, to a lesser extent, Leland Irving during the lockout. Once Miikka Kiprusoff went down with injury in Calgary, Taylor was recalled to the big club and eventually Irving was returned to the Heat. Calgary’s first round pick in 2006, Irving never seemed to find his legs last season – in part due to his demotion – and the percentages began to catch up with Brust, who began the year on an incredible roll. The result was the Heat got average, if not occasionally shaky, goaltending and with the team generally unable to score, they lost quite a few games down the stretch.
- Leland Irving (G), Barry Brust (G), Danny Taylor (G), Joe Callahan (D), Ben Walter (F), Krys Kolanos (F), Dustin Sylvester (F), Tyler Ruegsegger (F), F Akim Aliu (F), Lance Bouma (F), Sven Baertschi (F)
- Reto Berra (G), Joni Ortio (G), Chad Billins (D), Tyler Wotherspoon (D), John Ramage (D), Steve Begin (F), Josh Jooris (F), Markus Granlund (F), Turner Elson (F), Ben Hanowski (F), Corban Knight (F), Michael Ferland (F)
2013-2014 SEASON PREVIEW
The Abbotsford Heat will be much different this season, both on and off the ice.
On the ice, there are a lot of new faces. With Flames GM Jay Feaster wheeling and dealing – and relying on the draft to build the franchise up – several members of the 2010 and 2011 draft classes will be joining the Heat. Included among the new faces are college stars John Ramage, Corban Knight, Josh Jooris and Ben Hanowski, WHL standouts Michael Ferland and Tyler Wotherspoon, OHL bruiser Patrick Sieloff, Finnish star Markus Granlund and Swiss goaltender Reto Berra.
Off the ice, the Flames have assigned special assistant to the GM Craig Conroy as the new honcho in Abbotsford, handling day-to-day hockey operations and supervising head coach Troy G. Ward. The Heat also added veteran coach Robbie Ftorek as an assistant to Ward. The Flames intend for the Heat to play a more up-tempo, more offensively-oriented club, similar to the system deployed in Calgary by Bob Hartley’s staff. On one hand, Ward’s team – and Jim Playfair’s before him – played a grind-it-out defensive style to various levels of success. On the other hand, the reason that happened was probably out of necessity – the Flames simply didn’t have the personnel available for the Heat to play any differently.
The big question is whether that will again be the case in 2013-14.
On the defensive side of things, the Heat will be significantly upgraded on the back end with the additions of Chad Billins, Tyler Wotherspoon, Patrick Sieloff and John Ramage, and the returns of Chris Breen, Drew MacKenzie and Mark Cundari. In net, there’s a question mark – Leland Irving, Danny Taylor and Barry Brust have been replaced with Joni Ortio and Reto Berra. Neither of the Heat goalies have a lot of AHL experience, so it’s hard to know what to expect.
On the offensive side, the Heat will also see some changeover. Only seven Heat players had 10 or more goals in 2012-13. Two of them will likely be in Calgary (Sven Baertschi and Ben Street) and four of them left the organization entirely (Ben Walter, Krys Kolanos, Tyler Ruegsegger and Dustin Sylvester). With Roman Horak the only established scorer remaining on the team, the Heat will be hoping that some (if not all) of their off-season additions can provide some firepower (particularly if Horak is recalled to Calgary).
If the goaltenders can acclimate to the North American pro game quickly and one or two of the new forwards can become difference-makers, the Heat should be in decent shape. If that doesn’t happen – or if the Flames grab anybody that shows some promise for their line-up – it could be a long winter in the Fraser Valley.
Potential Call-Up Impact
Based on the amount of injuries in Calgary last season and the amount of players who don’t require waivers to be sent back to the AHL, expect a lot of yo-yoing between the NHL and AHL teams this season.
In particular, keep an eye out for recalls of the young blueliners – Sieloff, Ramage and Wotherspoon – and the first-year pro forwards like Knight, Granlund, Elson and Jooris. But if anybody gets on an incredible run – like Roman Horak’s scoring streak that probably earned him a long look in Calgary last year – expect them to get a look-see with the big club. Speaking of Horak, he begins the year with the Heat, but expect him to be one of the first players recalled.
With a lot of factors working for and against them, for now, look for the Heat to finish 2013-14 in a very similar position to where they finished 2012-13: somewhere in the middle.
Even if their goaltending isn’t quite as good as last year’s, their defensive game should be strong merely based on the personnel they’ve brought in (or brought back). But the big question mark is where the goal-scoring will come from. If one or two of the new faces up front can emerge as scoring threats, perhaps the Heat could trend upwards. For now, the middle is where they are projected to be.
Breakout Prospect Prediction:
Markus Granlund had a strong prospect camp in Calgary but struggled a bit when main camp began. However, the Finnish forward has proven to be a very smart, driven and adaptable hockey player over his young career. Originally reliant on his older brother, Mikael, for offensive production with HIFK Helinski, he adapted and became the straw that stirred the drink for HIFK on his own last year. If he can continue to adapt and learn, he could become one of the Heat’s most potent offensive weapons.
Also keep an eye out for Michael Ferland and Corban Knight, coming into the pros full-time after strong careers in the WHL and NCAA, respectively.