ABBOTSFORD, B.C. – Its name, city and rink may be brand new but the Calgary Flames’ top farm club – the Abbotsford Heat – is digging into the past to find motivation this season.
The Quad City Flames (36-31-13), as they were known last season, missed the final playoff spot in the AHL’s Western Conference West Division by just one point.
“It’s a huge motivation,” said forward J.D. Watt, one of 17 returning players. “We were the best team in the American Hockey League after Christmas. Now we know there has to be a full-season effort.”
In addition to the club’s new surroundings in British Columbia is new head coach Jim Playfair, a native of Vanderhoof, B.C., who is no stranger to the AHL or the Calgary Flames organization.
He spent two seasons behind the St. John Flames’ bench and, in 2001, guided the club to a Calder Cup championship. Playfair joined the Flames in January 2003 as an assistant coach, a position he held until being named head coach for the 2006-07 season. Since 2007 Playfair has held the position of associate coach with the Flames.
According to Playfair, the biggest challenges are off the ice.
“I think the biggest thing for us is getting to know the people that run the building, getting to know the front office staff, getting to know how we want to set up the day-to-day operations here.”
Goaltenders Leland Irving and Matt Keetley spent time playing for Quad City last year. Irving finished last season with a 24-18-2 record, 2.23 goals-against average and .912 save percentage. Keetley went 8-18-4 season with a 2.85 goals-against average and .892 save percentage.
“I want to go in and kind of get on a role right away would be pretty nice,” said the 20-year-old Irving. “Then as the season goes on maybe take a little bit more of the load, but either way the team is going to have a guy they can have confidence in the net. “
According to Playfair, third goalie David Shantz will be the odd man out and is expected to begin the season with the Victoria Salmon Kings of the ECHL.
Upfront, Playfair is expecting solid contributions from players such as Kyle Greentree (76 points in 79 games last season), veteran Peter Vandermeer, and Brett Sutter, who nearly made the big club in Calgary.
Mikael Backlund, a 2007 first-round pick, should also provide offence. The 20-year-old had 30 points in just 28 WHL games last season with Kelowna.
“I think he’s understood the level of hockey at the WHL level,” said Playfair. “Now it’s a matter of him developing some really good habits at the AHL level to become a consistent player.”
Playfair will count on 25-year-old defenceman Brett Palin.
“I just got to be a steady up and down guy and provide leadership,” Palin said. “I just have to work hard and produce where I can – hopefully put a few goals up and help out that way too. Just do whatever I can.”
The Heat’s inaugural season in Abbotsford begins Oct. 9 against San Antonio at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
“We’ve got a lot of talent here it seems like – especially up front,” said Irving. “It’s going to be interesting to see what we can do. I’m hoping for a good strong start, and to get ourselves in good strong position for the playoffs.”