September 22 2012 02:19PM
The Abbotsford Heat have had a tough time drawing fans from the Lower Mainland to their games. That should change for the next couple of months, as the AHL is suddenly the best professional hockey league in action this fall. The Heat are the AHL affiliate of the Calgary Flames, and many point to the Canucks-Flames rivalry as the culprit behind the low attendance numbers.
Why should you make your way out to Abbotsford this fall for a game? Many reasons. Read on to find them out.
Who: The Abbotsford Heat of the American Hockey League (AHL)
Where: Home games @ the Abbotsfort Entertainment & Sports Centre
Why: The AHL is the second best professional hockey league in North America after the NHL. And now, with NHL players being locked out, many top young talents have made their way down to the AHL to play. The list of notable players who will suit up in the AHL this fall includes Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk, Nick Leddy, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. DobberHockey has put together a comprehensive list of who to watch in the AHL.
Heat to Watch:
Former Portland Winterhawks winger Sven Bartschi may make the commute to Abbotsford worth it by himself. The skilled Swiss forward is one of hockey's top prospects, and is unquestionably the best young player in the Calgary organization. He has top line NHL upside, and for the next few months (and potentially longer), his skills will be in display for the Heat.
On the back end, TJ Brodie will likely be the defenseman to lead the offensive attack. Brodie has shown flashes of offensive talent at the NHL level, and a few months of success in the AHL would be great for his confidence and development.
Former Vancouver Giant Lance Bouma has been able to translate his physical style of play from junior hockey to the professional ranks.
Bartschi's impact was immediate in Calgary last year after being called up on an emergency basis from the WHL.
The Heat have some other names you may recognize up front. Greg Nemisz was at one time the third member of a line with Windsor featuring Taylor Hall and Adam Henrique. He hasn't developed as hoped since turning pro, though. Former top prospect Krys Kolanos is one of the better AHL veterans in the league. There are a lot of forwards competing for top six roster positions.
20-year-old center Max Reinhart (brother of Griffin and Sam, son of had 15 goals in 19 postseason games for the Kootenay Ice in the 2011-12 WHL postseason. Flames Nation sat down with Reinhart for an interview this past summer. On making the NHL:
Obviously the goal is to be in the NHL as fast as possible. That's my goal this summer. I think I have a legitimate shot and it's up to me for these next couple months to get ready and be able to put myself in that spot and hopefully earn my way on right from day one. But if not, I got to be working hard and just when I'm in Abbotsford, I got to make sure I stick out when I'm there and dominate down there so they have no choice but to bring me up. That's my goals for the summer, to make the Calgary Flames, and I feel like this is the closest I've been to being able to crack it. Hopefully this is my year and I'm going to work very hard to get there.
Undersized forward Paul Byron came over from Buffalo in the Robyn Regehr trade, and he is a talented offensive player. Roman Horak and Ryan Howse will look to rekindle the chemistry they showed while linemates with the Chilliwack Bruins a few years ago. Horak was a solid rookie with the Flames last year, while Howse scored 50 goals in his final year of junior (2010-11). He had only six goals in 39 games last year for the Heat, though.
Goaltenders Barry Brust and Danny Taylor will battle for the starting position. More on those two here.
This isn't a Flames site, and this isn't meant to be a comphrehensive Heat preview (Ryan Pinder and Kent Wilson have that covered over at Flames Nation). Now that you know a bit more about the team, let's get to the reason why you are likely reading this.
Important Home Dates:
October 19/20 vs. Chicago Wolves
Vancouver's AHL affiliate rolls into town for two games. Get a closer look at the new and improved Zack Kassian, a top defensive pairing of Chris Tanev and Kevin Connauton, Eddie Lack in goal, and a solid supporting cast - Jordan Schroeder, Anton Rodin, and more.
November 9/10 vs. Oklahoma City Barons
Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Justin Schultz head into town to play the Heat.
December 4/5 vs. San Antonio Rampage
Jacob Markstrom will backstop the Rampage, and he may be the best young goaltender in hockey.
December 14/15 vs. Texas Stars
Dallas has quietly built up a very solid prospect group. Some of the notables include Cody Eakin, Alex Chiasson, Brenden Dillon, and Patrick Nemeth.
This is first and foremost a Canucks blog, but at our core we are hockey fans. And hockey we will watch!