Print Edition: March 12, 2014
Things are very fluid in Abbotsford right now, and that has been reflected in the team’s recent subpar record. The Heat have earned just two of a possible 12 points on their current home stand, suffering losses to conference rivals (the Texas Stars, Grand Rapids Griffins, and Chicago Wolves), all the while sliding down in the Western Conference standings.
“It seems like we have a different group every game,” Heat coach Troy G. Ward explained after Wednesday’s 4-3 shootout loss to Texas. “As it changes, it takes a lot of patience.”
Ward wasn’t exaggerating. Injured Flames combined with the recent NHL trade deadline meant that Heat players had to be recalled in bunches to fill the holes left on their parent team’s roster. Reto Berra, who started for the Heat at the beginning of the season, was one of two Flames players dealt at the deadline. The 27-year-old Berra was traded to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for a second-round pick, which is surprising, considering their provincial rival Edmonton Oilers only got a fourth-round pick for Ilya Bryzgalov. The biggest benefactor of this trade has to be 22-year-old Finnish netminder Joni Ortio. With Berra traded and Flames starter Karri Ramo out with an injury, Ortio has an unchallenged opportunity to start in net for the Flames for the foreseeable future.
Currently, the Calgary Flames have eight rookies in their lineup, the most the team has dressed since December 1996. Ortio, Sean Monahan, Joe Colborne, Markus Granlund, Max Reinhart, Corban Knight, Ben Hanowski, and Tyler Wotherspoon were all dressed for the Flames’ weekend contests against the New York Islanders and Vancouver Canucks. Along with these rookies, Calgary also iced the likes of Lance Bouma, T.J. Brodie, Mikael Backlund, and Paul Byron, all of whom are under the age of 25 and spent time on the Abbotsford Heat during the past couple seasons. Fresh faces in a locker room can really inspire a team, especially when some of them are hunting down their first NHL goals during every contest.
Despite the unusual number of Heat players suiting up for the Flames, the Heat still had some firepower in the their line-up. Forwards Ben Street, Blair Jones and all-star defenseman Chad Billins have been tasked with picking up the offensive slack over the next few games. And amidst all of the call-ups, Sven Baertschi, surprisingly, remains with Abbotsford.
Baertschi has been putting up the points lately and is one of the team’s top prospects, but Flames interim general manager Brian Burke is concerned with Baertschi’s overall development. Burke told the Calgary Sun the day before the deadline, “His goal totals are disappointing for a player with his skill level, but he’s learning to do things that are vital if he wants to play here in terms of playing in all three zones and for 60 minutes. He’s made dramatic improvements.”
The Heat’s goaltending tandem of youngster Olivier Roy and veteran Joey MacDonald have struggled since Ortio’s call-up. The pair allowed 13 goals in four home games against Grand Rapids and Texas.
After Berra was dealt to the Avalanche, MacDonald was called up to backup Ortio and Abbotsford signed Canadian goaltender Aaron Dell to fill in for the Heat. Dell, 24, has spent most of the season suiting up for the Utah Grizzles of the ECHL, and will see some playing time with the Heat before the season’s out. With the current goaltending situation in Calgary and Ortio’s stellar play, Abbotsford shouldn’t expect to see their former starter back anytime soon.