The Abbotsford Heat have cooled off in December after a red-hot November to remember.
Coach Troy Ward's skaters tore through last month like a comet, went 9-1-2-0 and rose to the top of the American Hockey League standings.
December is turning out to be a different animal. The Heat have just a single win in five outings, although they have minimized the damage with two of the losses coming after regulation. They've also been shut out twice. They remain first overall but the results aren't rolling their way. So what gives?
“We did get some good bounces in November and got on a bit of run there and that's just how it goes sometimes with teams with some younger and older players,” Heat forward Ben Walter acknowledged Thursday as he and his mates prepped for a Friday-Saturday home doubleheader against the Texas Stars. “I think for the mostpart we're still very confident in the team we have and with the way things are going. It's still fairly early in the season and I feel good about our group.”
The absence of elite forward Sven Baertschi, the parent Calgary Flames' first-round pick in 2011, may have something to do with the recent downturn. Baertschi suffered an upper-body injury Nov. 30 against the Hamilton Bulldogs and has yet to re-appear. He didn't practise on Thursday and isn't expected to play this weekend.
Walter was also hurt in the Nov. 30 outing but returned last Sunday against the Toronto Marlies after missing three games. He assisted twice in a 3-2 Heat victory and was held pointless in Tuesday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Rochester Americans.
“I had kind of a rib thing but I'm 100 per cent now,” said Walter, who has 17 points. “With Sven, I think maybe at first we relied on him a little bit in certain situations but we do have a lot of depth on our team. Obviously you do miss a guy like him because he brings a lot of energy and is great with the puck and stuff like that. But we have other guys on the team who can step into that role as well.”
The Heat remain the AHL's top defensive club with netminders Barry Brust and Danny Taylor sitting one-two in goals against average. Brust leads the league at 1.20, followed by Taylor at 1.69.
The Stars, meanwhile, will bring a few familiar faces to the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre, especially on their coaching staff. Former Medicine Hat Tiger bench boss Willie Desjardins is the head coach and he is assisted by longtime Vancouver Canuck defenceman Doug Lidster. Friday's game will mark Desjardins 600th as a head coach, the first 576 of those coming with the WHL's Tigers.
One-time Vancouver Giant Tomas Vincour and Victoria native Jordie Benn (older brother of Jamie) are also on the Stars. Cody Eakin leads them in points with 15.
A-NOTES: Faceoff time at the AESC both Friday and Saturday is 7 p.m... Friday is also Teddy Bear Toss Night... This is the Heat's last homestand of 2012. They finish the calendar year with six straight road games, including a New Year's Eve date in Peoria, Ill.
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