It seems to be a similar trend every week to talk about the tight playoff race in the North Division, but that’s been the story all year. The Abbotsford Heat, the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Manitoba Moose, the Toronto Marlies, and the Lake Erie Monsters have been battling for playoff positioning for the majority of the season, and it looks like it’s going to go down to the final games of the season before we are going to see which of these teams get into the playoffs.
There are only three points that separate the five teams from first to fifth, Abbotsford being the team currently in the fifth spot. The Heat temporarily fell out of the race, but with a recent surge in the last six games, they have managed to creep back into the picture. Starting with the home win against Providence, the Heat has managed to go 4-1-1-0 and snag nine of their last possible twelve points.
The Heat now has to come home and play the Pittsburgh Penguins’ farm club this weekend, the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. The Penguins currently have the best record in the AHL, so this will be a real character test for the surging Abbotsford Heat team as they push for the playoffs. The Pittsburgh Penguins have a couple of key players out, like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, so the Penguins have recently had to call up Dustin Jeffrey who scored 17 goals and had 45 points in 40 games for the W/B Scranton Penguins this season. The Heat could use this opportunity to steal some key points from the best team in the league, who haven’t slowed down without Jeffrey.
After their two game set with Wilkes-Barre Scranton, Abbotsford has another key home match up with their divisional rival, the Hamilton Bulldogs. The Bulldogs currently sit in first place in the North Division, so this is a potential challenge for first place for the Heat.
The Heat can credit a lot of their recent success to their new teammate down from the NHL, Ales Kotalik. He started out for the Heat as a skilled playmaker, but now he is also starting to score goals, big goals. Ales Kotalik had the game winning goal for the Heat last week against the Houston Aeros in Houston, and he has accumulated 18 points in 16 games. Kotalik has been a huge addition to the Heat, and he has the potential to help get this team into the playoffs and make another run like last season.
These next four home games are very crucial as to whether they make the playoffs or not this season. The first home game against the Penguins is March 11, with the second game going the next night. Then they face the Bulldogs on March 18 and 19, in the same fashion. Watch for student discounts on Heat tickets. For more insider info on the AHL and the NHL follow me on Twitter @JustinOrly.