Print Edition: January 11, 2012
Nearing the mid-way point of the season, the Abbotsford Heat have surprised many. Last year the Heat finished dead last in the league, recording a dismal record of 38-32-4-6, recording only 186 goals for. This year has been a very different story – 35 games in, the Heat have a record of 22-10-3-0 and are on pace to record 216 goals for. The result is that the Heat are sitting just three points out of first place in the league, poised to make their first appearance in the playoffs since their inaugural season.
The difference has largely been due to the addition of a first line that can actually produce goals – when it matters most. Ben Walter and Krys Kolanos both joined the club in October and began playing with Jon Rheault. The newly-formed line quickly found chemistry and has yet to look back. The three forwards currently occupy the top three scoring positions for the club.
As a result, Jon Rheault is now the all-time leading scorer for the Abbotsford Heat, with just 61 points over 113 regular season games. Talking with Cam Tucker of The Vancouver Sun, Rheault commented on the broken record: “I didn’t actually know what the numbers were for the franchise, but I’m honoured to be the leading scorer with the Heat and obviously it’s an organization that took me in and gave me a good opportunity here.”
As such a young organization, the earning of the all-time scoring title was not a major feat, but it marks a distinct change in both the style of play and the talent of the Abbotsford Heat this year. To say that the Heat have improved on last seasons play is an understatement. Improvements have comes both offensively (as noted) and defensively.
Leland Irving started out the season in net for the Heat and played 23 games before being recalled to the Calgary Flames to fill in for the injured Miikka Kiprusoff. In his time with the Heat this season, Irving posted a 0.914 save percentage and a 2.30 goals-against average (GAA). Just prior to his departure, the Flames signed goaltender Danny Taylor. Taylor has now played 21 games with the Heat and has filled Irving’s skates quite nicely, putting up an impressive 0.927 save percentage and a 2.38 GAA. Last season the Heat surrendered 206 goals, while they are currently on pace to surrender only 156. These numbers provide an easy explanation to why the Heat have found success early on this season – they are scoring more and being scored on less.
While these numbers are impressive, it remains to be seen whether the Heat will sustain these numbers during the second half of the season. There is a bigger question has yet to be answered: whether this success will put more fans into the seats at the AESC. That will be the greatest challenge this young organization will face—a challenge that will only be overcome by the continuation of the style of play displayed during the first half of this season.