Abbotsford's crowded crease to Heat up as new AHL season opens
Top Calgary Flames prospect Leland Irving battles for position against a pair of journeymen
In terms of a goaltending controversy, it’s not quite on the same level as Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, but the battle to be the Abbotsford Heat’s starting goaltender this season-opening weekend remains undecided.
The Heat currently have three goalies left in camp — the Calgary Flames' 2006 first-round pick Leland Irving, and journeymen minor leaguers Danny Taylor and Barry Brust — as the Fraser Valley’s American Hockey League team opens the 2012-13 regular season tonight against the Peoria Rivermen.
One of those three goalies will find themselves tending the crease Friday, while another will be forced to watch from the seats of the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
During the Calder Cup playoffs, head coach Troy Ward leaned on Taylor, who has played for 11 different teams throughout his now seven-year professional career, over Irving, a strong candidate for the backup position with the Calgary Flames.
Brust came to camp as a 29-game winner with the Binghamton Senators during their 2010-11 Calder Cup winning season.
Clearly, choosing a starting goalie has become a particularly difficult task, and the questions outnumber the answers.
“I’m probably (going to) play four forwards and just two goalies. That will be our six,” Ward joked with a trio of reporters Wednesday.
“It’s a great question and it’s a very tough one to answer to be quite honest with you. They’re all capable guys. We’re going to just sit back and see how this plays out and how it plays out, quite frankly … it could have a lot to do with our coaching staff and our goalies or it could just have a lot to do with (Calgary Flames) management.”
Irving, the Heat’s most valuable player during the 2010-11 season when he posted eight shutouts, was a late-September addition to Abbotsford’s training camp roster.
Having played much of the last four years in the AHL, as well as seven games with the Flames last season, there was a good chance he could have graduated to the NHL this year to be the number two man behind Miikka Kiprusoff.
However, because of the ongoing NHL lockout, he’s back in Abbotsford.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge, but at the same time, we have three great goalies here, so I’ve got my work cut out for me,” he said.
The issue of the soon-to-be-named starting goalie is of particular importance for the Heat.
The Heat played only a single exhibition game during training camp — an inter-squad match on Oct. 5 that Team White won over Team Red 3-2.
For most on the Heat, Friday’s opener against Peoria will be their first real game action since Game 5 of the AHL Western Conference semifinal back on May 9, when Abbotsford was eliminated from the post-season with a 3-2 overtime loss to the Toronto Marlies.
“It would have been nice to play exhibition games but I think we had a pretty competitive red-white game here,” said Heat forward and former Vancouver Giant Lance Bouma.
“Our practices have been really intense and we’ve been playing hard. I should hope it shouldn’t be too much different.”
Last season, the Heat were able to open the regular season with a pair of one-goal victories on the road against the Lake Erie Monsters.
Abbotsford finished with a franchise-best 42 wins and a fourth-place showing in the Western Conference with 92 points – one better than the Chicago Wolves, AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks.
A good start would be ideal for the Heat, considering their on-ice success last season, and the fact they play 10 of their first 13 games on home ice, where they are 58-43-9-8 since October 2009.
But the sting of losing three straight playoff games on home ice to the Marlies, and, subsequently, being eliminated still lingers.
“We have more expectations,” said forward Quintin Laing.
“The way the year ended last year was very disappointing for everybody. We thought we had the team to go to the finals and to lose like that — three games in a row at home — is something that we’ve got to improve on. Our home record we’ve got to improve on. So we’ve got a lot of unfinished business.”
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