With all eyes on the parent club this weekend, the AHL's Abbotsford Heat quietly kicked off the 2010-11 season on Friday with a 3-2 shootout victory. Goalie Leland Irving made 36 saves for the win, and the Heat overcame deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 courtesy of goals by Carter Bancks, who also collected an assist, and the recently acquired Matt Keith. The Heat would score on all three of their shootout opportunities on goals by Jon Rheault, Kris Chucko, and the since departed Staffan Kronwall to take the two points. The Heat are 1-1 in the two games since then; after getting blown out by the Milwaukee Admirals on Saturday, they beat the Marlies 3-2 in Toronto on Monday, as Irving made 34 saves and Matt Keith, Greg Nemisz, and Cam Cunning scored for Abbotsford.
It's a little early for any definitive evaluations to be made about this very young squad that many have predicted will have difficult time succeeding in the tough North Division. This season is the first of the professional variety for eight Heat players, and after the departure of leading scorers Jason Jaffray and David Van der Gulik in the off-season, it seems very likely that the club will struggle to score this season, after lighting the lamp only 217 times in 2009-10. Mikael Backlund, who scored 15 goals and 32 points in 54 games with Abbotsford last season, is also unavailable for the foreseeable future. There's no question that the team will need more stability in net after the inconsistency displayed by both Leland Irving and Matt Keetley last season, and early results indicate that the starting job is Irving's to lose. For a team that collected the most PIMS in the league last season, the Heat struggled on special teams, finishing 22nd in the league on the powerplay and 25th in penalty killing.
By the Numbers:
Average Age: 23 (youngest in the league)
Goals For: 7
Goals Against: 10
PP Goals For/Against: 2/4
SH Goals For/Against: 2/1
Carter Bancks (1G, 4A, +2 in 3GP)
A late addition down the stretch for the injury-ravaged Heat last season, Bancks was held pointless in nine regular season games with Abbotsford and registered just one assist in thirteen playoff games. After signing an AHL contract this past spring, the undrafted former Lethrbridge Hurricane attended Flames camp before being re-assigned to the Heat, and is now tied for the league lead in scoring early on with Keith Aucoin and Jonathan Cheechoo. Bancks, who seems to have the makings of a defensive forward, scored a career high 55 points his final WHL season, so it'll be interesting to see if he can keep that up at the next level.
Greg Nemisz (2G, 1A, +1 in 3GP)
The first year AHLer is off to a good start with the Heat with two goals and three points in three games, including both of the teams' shorthanded tallies. Nemisz's two goals come on only four shots, however, and he clearly won't continue shooting 50% for too much longer, but this early offensive break-out certainly offers some comfort to Flames fans discouraged by Nemisz's poor showing in camp.
John Armstrong (0PTS, 4SOG, -2 in 3GP)
After missing the majority of Flames camp after suffering yet another injury, the organization's patience is undoubtably beginning to wear thin for the 2006 draftee, who has never scored more than 15 points in 68 games at the AHL level, coming in his first season with the Flames' farm squad. This year could be Armstrong's last chance to prove his worth to the organization, and he hasn't gotten off to the greatest start, although he could have a chance to crack the lineup at some point this season if the injury bug continues its vicious attack upon the Flames' roster.
Kris Chucko (0PTS, 4SOG, -2 in 2GP):
After a career-high 28 goals and 51 points in 2008-09 with Quad Cities, the 2004 first-rounder appeared in only 41 games with the Heat last season as the result of a concussion, scoring nine goals and eighteen points. The 24-year-old will likely be relied upon to lead the offensive attack as one of the team's "veterans" in his fifth AHL season, although any progress Chucko makes at the AHL level is essentially moot at this point, and his chances of ever cracking the Flames' lineup slim to none.
UPDATE: Chucko left Saturday's game with an apparent shoulder/neck injury resulting from a collision with teammate Bryan Cameron, and is currently listed as day-to-day, with fears that the forward may have suffered another concussion.
The Heat open the home portion of their schedule with back-to-back games against the Rockford IceHogs on Friday and Saturday after losing the season series 3-1 in 2009-10, before hitting the road for three more games starting in Chicago on the 20th.