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The long and winding road of Abbotsford’s scheduling woes

The Abbotsford Heat’s road schedule this season could be described as tough, trying, or even hectic, but I believe the most accurate term is unfair.

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Photo: Clint Trahan/Abbotsford Heat

By Paul Esau (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: October 30, 2013

Photo: Clint Trahan/Abbotsford Heat

Heat goaltender Reto Berra before the game.

The Abbotsford Heat’s road schedule this season could be described as tough, trying, or even hectic, but I believe the most accurate term is unfair. To illustrate this point, take a look at the Heat’s weekend games from Friday October 18 to Sunday October 20. In case you don’t have a schedule handy, I’ll fill you in. They played three road games in two states over the course of three days. You heard me right: three games over three days with travel in between games two and three. Break that down however you want, it’s impressive that the Heat came back with a 1-1-1 record over the exhausting weekend, which ended in a 9-3 loss to the Texas Stars where the Heat gave up a season high five power play goals in the game. The loss would have been embarrassing if their schedule wasn’t so laughable.

After the team’s 4-2 victory over the Lake Erie Monsters Friday night, Heat coach Troy G. Ward spoke about the team’s collapse in the third period against Texas, explaining, “The wheels fell off, the engine fell out, and we ran out of gas” at the end of their road trip. He later added that the guys, “wanted to make a statement, they wanted to say ‘that wasn’t our team.’” After all, can you truly judge a team’s third-period effort after playing eight periods of professional hockey in about 50 hours?

The Heat have consistently come up on the short end of the stick when it comes to the scheduling of road trips during the regular season, and this is mostly due to the franchise’s unfortunate geographical position in the AHL. After the Minnesota Wild moved its AHL affiliate from Houston to Des Moines, Iowa and the Vancouver Canucks moved their prospects east to Utica, New York, the AHL made some interesting alignments in terms of divisions, which only increased the Heat’s travelling woes.

After the dust settled, it was announced that the Heat would be placed in the newly renamed West Division, formerly South Division, with teams from San Antonio, Texas, Oklahoma City, and Charlotte. And when I say Charlotte, I don’t mean the city in Texas. The Charlotte Checkers, the “divisional rivals” of a team from BC, play out of North Carolina. Take a quick look at the cities where AHL teams play, and you’ll see an imbalance between east and west coast teams as well as travel schedules. Bus and train rides across state lines are much less demanding than the time-zone-crossing plane rides that await the Heat every other weekend.

Needless to say, the Heat are situated in no-man’s land, which means the team can’t hold as many practices and have to deal with a disproportionate amount of jet lag compared to other teams in the league. Not only that, but these conditions put pressure on the team to perform well at home, and pick up more points at the AESC when players are well-rested and the opposing team is forced to travel way out west to Abbotsford. The bulk of Abbotsford’s games come in the form of back-to-back matches, making it more difficult to stick with a starting goalie due to problems of fatigue. The team dealt with this issue last season by employing Barry Brust, Leland Irving, and Danny Taylor to occupy the Abbotsford crease. However, it looks as though Reto Berra will play the lion’s share of games this season, with Laurent Brossoit falling into the back-up role.

Although the team will log its fair share of air miles this season, Abbotsford’s geographical position could be a potential deterrent for the Calgary Flames organization. When management attempts to sign depth players and young prospects, who will likely have to spend time in Abbotsford, those players could decide to sign elsewhere. It would be nice if that glut of east coast teams got broken up, making their way west to cities like Portland, Seattle, or even Regina – that way the Heat don’t have to play a “divisional” opponent from Texas nine times in one season.

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