by Dave Sheldon || AHL On The Beat Archive
With the Olympics in full swing in nearby Vancouver, the Abbotsford Heat are in the midst of their longest road trip of the season, a nine-games-in-18-days odyssey that would test any team’s mettle.
The Heat have responded with six wins in their first seven games, with a visit to Worcester coming Friday and Saturday.
Not only has the team had to battle the road, but injuries have tapped this Heat’s resources and allowed other players to step up and play a role in the club’s success.
At the beginning of the road trip, the Heat were missing eight players — Brett Palin, John Negrin, Matt Pelech, Riley Armstrong, Kris Chucko, Carsen Germyn, John Armstrong and David Van der Gulik — who were a part of the team’s opening day roster.
Eight players over the course of the season is understandable. Eight players at the same time is unheard of.
“This becomes a test for the hockey club,” stated Heat head coach Jim Playfair. “Our team has to rely on who is in the lineup, as opposed to who isn’t. Winning and losing is such a fine line in the AHL. All of our players made the adjustments and we are seeing the results that we expect from our players on a nightly basis.”
Players who have stepped up range from ECHL call-ups to players who have realized that they need to take on a larger role within the team.
To Playfair, they are all Heat players.
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“When we ask players to come in and play, that is their responsibility, regardless of where they were before or earlier this season. This is a great opportunity for all of these players to get them noticed so that they can get to the next level, which is the National Hockey League.”
For a player like goaltender David Shantz, it is another chance to impress.
Shantz originally started this season with Victoria of the ECHL. After posting an 18-5-4 record with the Salmon Kings, the Heat called in Shantz to solidify their goaltending, and Shantz has delivered. Since Feb. 5, Shantz is 6-1-1 with a 2.20 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage.
For Shantz, it is easy.
“The team has asked me to come in and play,” he said. “I am happy that Calgary has given me the opportunity to come here and play with Abbotsford. My job now is to continue to do what gave me this opportunity, and that is to play well and give my team a chance to succeed.”
With less than 20 games to go, the Heat have the opportunity to play themselves into the playoffs and beyond, thanks to their newfound depth.
The question that will come up when everyone gets healthy will be: Who gets to play? It is a question that 28 other teams would be happy to have to answer.