Roman Horak continues to lead the Heat in scoring after a natural hat-trick in Friday's win over the Toronto Marlies. - Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE
With no end to the lockout in sight, the Abbotsford Heat have soared to the top of the AHL through the first month of play
Almost two months into the lockout one of the worst fears for many fans has been realized. The annual Winter Classic was officially cancelled on Friday, but that seems to have finally motivated the two sides to meet and attempt to salvage some portion of the season after almost two weeks of silence. Bill Daly and Donald Fehr met privately in a "secret location" yesterday and the two sides have reportedly agreed to meet again this coming week.
While the work stoppage drags on, more and more people have been turning to the AHL for their hockey fix, and the thus far, the Abbotsford Heat have been a treat to watch (even if they are attracting the eyes of some Canucks fans).
CBC reported yesterday that the Heat cost taxpayers another $1.76M after failing to cover their costs with one of the lowest attendance rates in the league last season, but that could change this year, depending on when and if the NHL comes to an agreement on a new CBA. Abbotsford currently ranks 19th in the league in terms of attendance, drawing an average of 4,463 people per game to the AESC.
The Heat are currently ranked first in the league after two more wins over the Toronto Marlies this weekend. On Thursday, they set a new record for the two quickest short-handed goals in league history. The goals came just three seconds apart early in the third period of a 3-0 win over the Marlies in which goalie Danny Taylor stopped all 22 shots he faced and the Heat killed off all ten penalties against them.
That win particularly seemed to bolster attendance, as the club sold a record 1,202 tickets the next day before the second game of a back-to-back series against Toronto. Abbotsford also won that contest thanks to a natural hat-trick by Roman Horak, who leads the team in scoring with 10 goals (including three powerplay goals) in nine games thus far. Horak is tied with Sven Baertschi in points with 11, but has six more goals than the Swiss superstar.
Leland Irving also stopped 25 shots for his first win of the season. This was just Irving's second appearance so far, with the other being a 4-3 shootout loss to the Lake Erie Monsters last weekend, but it seems he still has a ways to go to wrestle the starting job away from Taylor.
Surprisingly, the Heat have so far managed to maintain their otherworldly penalty kill that I suspected would soon fall back down to earth in my last post. They killed off all three Marlies powerplays in Friday's game and their PK is currently operating at 97.5% efficiency.
Next week, the Heat will face off against the Oklahoma City Barons, the Edmonton Oilers' AHL affiliate, in a back-to-back series that is expected to draw large crowds thanks to the likes of Justin Schultz, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Taylor Hall also joined the Barons this past weekend after recovering from shoulder surgery, but was almost handed a suspension after just one game when he delivered a hit to the head of Minnesota Wild prospect Jonas Brodin.
The Barons currently sit in sixth place in the Western conference with five wins and 11 points in nine games.