A secret weapon has helped the Abbotsford Heat push their series with the Rochester Americans to the limit.
Well-travelled forward Jon Rheault has chipped in five goals for Abbotsford?the fourth different team he’s played for in a matter of months.
“It’s been quite the year,” Rheault said Monday.
The 23-year-old was a central figure in helping the Heat twice stave off elimination and set up Tuesday’s Game 7 in Rochester. He opened the scoring en route to a 3-1 win in Game 5 before registering a hat trick during a 5-1 victory in Game 6.
The two teams have staged a back-and-forth series, with Rochester reeling off three straight wins before allowing Abbotsford to claw back.
“I think we’ve done a great job at having a short memory,” said Rheault. “I think that’s important in the playoffs. I mean you can lose 8-1, but you can come back and it’s a whole new day every day.
“We didn’t give up hope when (the series) was 3-1 and now I think momentum’s on our side.”
Just like Game 6, Abbotsford will need to win on the road at Blue Cross Arena to move into the second round of the American Hockey League playoffs.
However, home ice hasn’t played a huge factor in the series as both teams have won twice on the road. Rheault?pronounced ROW?thinks the cross-continent travel has been particularly hard on the Americans.
“Obviously I haven’t been (playing for Abbotsford) all year, but these guys have been used to the travel and everything like that,” he said. “And I think that Rochester isn’t. We’ve had to travel like that basically for every game.”
Rheault might be a relative newcomer to the Heat, but he’s been racking up the air miles on his own.
His season began in training camp with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, who made him one of their first cuts. From there, he joined the California-based Ontario Reign in the ECHL, where he had 19 goals in 30 games.
“I was on a tear and had something to prove,” said Rheault.
Stints with the AHL’s Providence Bruins and Manchester Monarchs followed before Rheault finally found his way to Abbotsford for five games in the regular season and the current playoff drive.
He’s slept in a lot of hotel beds since last fall.
“Even when I was in Manchester?I was there from the end of November until the beginning of March?I was in an extended-stay hotel there,” said Rheault. “I haven’t exactly had a home this year, but I’ve gotten used to it. I have the mentality that I’m just having fun and playing hockey.”
It hasn’t made him wealthy. Rheault has been playing in the AHL on non-guaranteed professional tryout contracts that pay less than $40,000 when averaged over a full season.
He’s hoping his current play might lead to more stability moving forward.
“I don’t want to go back to the (ECHL), I think I’m ready to move on from that,” said Rheault, who was born in Texas and raised in New Hampshire. “Hopefully, I’ll get an opportunity at some point for next year.”
That’s an issue for another day.
Rheault has played 80 games in a variety of different uniforms this season, but none is bigger than the one he’ll suit up for on Tuesday night.
“Absolutely, 100 per cent, I’m ready to go,” he said. “It’s exciting. Obviously, you live for these Game 7 games. When you’re playing street hockey when you’re younger, it’s always Game 7.