Rookies leading Heat to early success

by Dave Sheldon || AHL On The Beat Archive

As the season unfolds, the Abbotsford Heat are once again showing that they are a team that will need to be reckoned with in the AHL’s North Division. Up until this past weekend, the Heat held first place in the North and have served notice that on the road, the Heat will be tough to handle.

While this is great news and head coach Jim Playfair and staff are happy with the progress of this team so far, the bigger news is how the team is getting it done.

Once again, injuries have reared their ugly head in the Fraser Valley. During last weekend’s pair of losses against the Peoria Rivermen, eight regulars were out of the lineup. With that many injuries, you have to rely on players — any players — to get you through the tough times.

For the Abbotsford Heat, the rookies have been the ones to step up and the team has been the beneficiary of some great play by their first-year pros.

Consider this: 15 players on the Heat roster are 22 years old or younger. Abbotsford at an average of 23.0 years old on opening night is the youngest team in the entire AHL. Three of the top four Heat scorers — Greg Nemisz, Gaelan Patterson and Carter Bancks — were last year playing junior hockey. Five of the Heat’s top eight scorers are first-year players.

With all of this in mind and the belief that you need veteran players on your team to win, how have the Heat been able to come out of the gate and perch atop the North Division after the first quarter of the season?

“Good preparation,” says Playfair. “The coaching that these young men have received, whether they were in the CHL or NCAA, has been excellent.”

Playfair cited Nemisz, a first-round draft choice by the parent Calgary Flames in 2008 and a two-time Memorial Cup champion with Windsor, as a young player already with an impressive resume.

“Here is a fellow who not only had success at the junior level, but he won there as well. Playing on a winner shows you what it takes to win and the commitment and sacrifice required in achieving that level of success. ‘Nemo’ brings that into our room and it is something that our other players see and can get excited about.”

For players like Bancks, Lance Bouma and Mitch Wahl, Playfair points to their exposure to the Calder Cup Playoffs last season.

“These three players were able to come in to our team once their junior seasons were over and see the level that they needed to be at to even compete in the AHL,” comments Playfair. “All three of these players were able to not only participate in these playoff games, but also contribute to our success. This carries over to this season, when a player like Bancks can step in and contribute, it shows us as an organization that not only is he ready to play, but that he is smart enough to recognize what is needed to succeed and elevate yourself to have success.”

For the Heat to keep on succeeding this season, youth will have to be served. If the first 20 games are an indication, this team will not only be in contention at the end of the season, but for many seasons to come.

“Our young players are in a unique situation,” says Playfair. “If they can show us that they can have success at this level, it will put them on the radar with what Calgary is trying to do to succeed. If Calgary recognizes that these players as a group are having success, it may give all of them a chance sooner, rather than later, to have a crack at making the NHL.”