Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Abbotsford Heat in the Hunt for an AHL Playoff Spot...

In an effort to promote the American Hockey League and their quality players, The Voice of Sport will look at teams in the AHL every Saturday throughout the season (running late this week, newspaper deadlines on the weekend). The teams in the AHL play an exciting brand of hockey and with a mix of veterans and NHL draft picks; the league is a great place to watch some tremendous hockey at a reasonable price. This week's team - the Abbotsford Heat...

The Calgary Flames have moved their AHL affiliate several times in recent years. From 1993 until 2003, the team was located in St. John New Brunswick, where they appeared in the Calder Cup Finals on two occasions as the St. John Flames, winning the 2001 Calder Cup over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. After leaving the Maritimes, the team headed to Nebraska, becoming the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights (Ak-Sar-Ben - Nebraska spelled backwards). Despite on-ice success in their second season, the franchise struggled at the gate amidst rumours that the team was on the move again. The rumours proved correct, as the moving vans returned and brought the team to Moline Illinois, becoming the Quad City Flames.

The Quad City Flames missed the playoffs during their two-year stay in Moline, finishing sixth and fifth in the West Division. After those two disappointing years as the Quad City Flames and in search of some stability, the AHL affiliate of the Calgary Flames has taken up residence for the 2009-2010 season in the 7,018 seat Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre. Now playing as the Abbotsford Heat in the Western Conference's North Division, the team is drawing an average of 3,840 fans per game and the results on the ice have improved slightly as well.

Leading the way for the Heat is former Manitoba Moose left winger, Jason Jaffray. The native of Rimbey Alberta is in his first year with the Flames organization after spending four years with the Moose. After playing his junior hockey with the Kootenay Ice and the Swift Current Broncos (WHL), Jaffray was not selected in the NHL’s entry draft. He worked his way through the ECHL and AHL before finding a permanent spot on the Manitoba roster. During his time on the Prairies with the Moose, he played in 33 NHL games with the Vancouver Canucks during the ‘08 and ‘09 seasons, scoring 4 goals and adding six assists. This season, he leads the Heat in scoring with 18 goals, 23 assists, 166 shots on goal and he is a +16 in the plus/minus department.

Hockey fans will certainly recognize the Sutter name; after all, six of the Sutter’s were integral parts on their NHL teams. Brent, Brian, Darryl, Duane, Rich and Ron Sutter played a combined 4,994 regular season NHL games and 603 playoff games, bringing six Stanley Cups home to Viking Alberta. The second generation of Sutter’s are now on their way into the NHL, with Brent’s son Brandon playing for the Carolina Hurricanes and Darryl’s son Brett as a member of the Heat. A sixth round pick (179th overall) of the Calgary Flames in the 2005 entry draft, Brett Sutter is in his third year in the AHL. In 52 games this season, Sutter has 6 goals and 10 assists for the Heat. Last season, Brett suited up for the Calgary Flames on four occasions and scored his first and only NHL goal (so far).

Coming off a 5-1 victory over the Toronto Marlies on Monday afternoon, the Heat find themselves third in the North Division, four points behind the second place Rochester Americans and sixteen points behind the division leading Hamilton Bulldogs. With a 26-23-4-4 win/loss record, the Heat are in the hunt for a playoff position. However, they have allowed 167 goals, while scoring only 151; their power play is 24th in the league at 14.5% and the penalty kill is last in the league at 79.1%. Looking for a long playoff run in their new hometown, the Heat will have to improve on these statistics if they wish to have a realistic shot at the Calder Cup.

Photo by Pioneer98 on Flickr

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