Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Look at the Abbotsford Heat

A look at the Abbotsford Heat
Flames jambalaya With Dan Kinvig

With the way the last couple of weeks have gone with the Flames, and all the drinking and crying we continue to do as fans, I wanted to spend some time talking about something more positive. I also wanted to give fans a direct inside view of our prospects and who better to provide us with an honest view from the Heat than Dan Kinvig. Dan is the sports editor at the Abbotsford news! Dan has great sports knowledge and follows the Abbotsford Heat on a daily basis. Dan is a MUST follow on twitter at (@dankinvigsports) and I highly recommend reading up on his articles at http://www.abbynews.com/

I was pleased that Dan took some time to be interviewed by Flames Jambalaya, answer some questions that allow us as Flames fans to get a more inside view of the Heat.

Question#1 We all know it is a young team, but with that said are the Heat playing like a young team? Or is their 16-14-4 record, a sign of great young talent with good leadership and coaching? How do you assess the team so far this year?
"There's definitely a learn-as-you-go element this season, what with all the youth on the roster. But that said, the Heat have found a way to win, and that's a tribute to Jim Playfair and the players in the room. They haven't been able to score many goals (just 23 in the last 15 games), but they've buckled down defensively and won a lot of 2-1 games. Playfair talks a lot about the character in the room – he's really impressed with these young kids."

Question#2 I have been a big fan of Leland Irving since his junior days, but I couldn’t help but feel disappointed the past couple of years. Is Leland back to form and is he close to being that 1st round pick that I was so excited about?
"Leland really struggled last year – he spent some time in the ECHL, and it was clear that his confidence was low. But he put in an awesome summer of work, and his confidence is back. You can see it in his body language on the ice, and in his results. He's always been a technically sound goalie, and he's taken full advantage of the opportunity that Playfair's given him to run with the No. 1 job. His stock as a prospect, to me, has to be back where it was two years ago."

Question#3 Is it fair to say that Kris Chucko is no longer a “prospect” and should we just accept that he is a bust as a former first round pick?
"Kris is really a hard-luck case. He had a pretty nice 2008-09 campaign with the Quad City Flames (28 goals, 23 assists in 74 games), but concussions have limited him the past two years. He played only 41 games last season, and he was concussed once again in just his second game this season. What I'm trying to say is, it's hard for him to shed the 'bust' label when he can't get on the ice. Playfair said earlier this week that Chucko isn't anywhere close to returning at this point, so you've got to wonder whether this season is the end of his run in the Flames organization."

Question#4 I have heard a lot of positives about Greg Nemisz and Carter Bancks so far this season. How excited should Flames fans be about these two kids?
"To me, this year's crop of rookie pros is the most exciting strata of youngsters in the Flames system. That includes the likes of T.J. Brodie, Lance Bouma, Mitch Wahl and Gaelan Patterson, along with Nemisz and Bancks. Bancks has been just awesome. Concussions have sidelined him for 16 games, but when he's in the lineup, he's been the Heat's best forward more often than not. He's the definition of gritty – never scared to throw his body in front of a shot – and his offensive skills are underrated. Not bad for a kid who wasn't drafted and is on an AHL contract. Nemisz has a lot of tools, as you'd expect from a first-round pick. He's got good size, good puck skills, and he's an effective penalty killer."

Question#5 Jon Rheault had a great summer camp and then a good pre-season, was it a fluke? Or has he been struggling to find his groove again?
"Jon has definitely struggled to find his groove. He had six goals in 13 AHL playoff games last spring, but he's scored just four times in 34 games this season. When Jon is rolling well, he's using his speed to beat defencemen to the outside and take pucks to the net. That aggressive mentality hasn't been there for him on a consistent basis this season, but he played well in the Heat's last two games before the Christmas break."

Who are your MVP, Most improved and Norris trophy guys on the Heat so far this season?
"MVP has got to be Leland Irving. He leads the AHL in goalie wins with 15, and it's hard to imagine where the Heat would be without him. They have so much trouble scoring, and Irving hasn't had a lot of margin for error. Carter Bancks might have given Irv a run for MVP honours, but he hasn't played enough games to join that discussion, in my mind.
"Most improved is a bit of a tough one, since there are so many rookies and new faces on this team. Irving is probably the best choice – he's having a huge bounce-back season – but for the sake of variety, I'll mention defencemen Keith Seabrook and Gord Baldwin. Seabrook plays huge minutes for this team, and seems to be taking on more of an on-ice leadership role after a bit of a slow start. As for Baldwin, I think the Heat coaching staff would still like to see him use his big body more effectively (he's 6'5", 205 lbs), but his +4 rating is third-best on the team.
"For the Norris, I'll go with T.J. Brodie. I'm a huge fan of Brodie's – every game he makes at least one 'wow' play. He's so mobile, and I think he might be the best NHL prospect on this team."

Last thing, I was hoping to get your opinion on Backlund’s recent “healthy scratch” status and if you feel he should be playing with the Heat to continue his development?
"I really thought we'd seen the last of Backlund in Abbotsford, and I certainly don't have my finger on the pulse of the Flames to the same extent as I do with the Heat, but the recent healthy scratches kind of make you wonder. To me, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to have a young guy watching from the press box for a long stretch. If he's not going to play regularly in Calgary, there's really no downside to sending him down to get some game action."

Definitely sounds like there are some things to be excited about in Abbotsford, especially Leland Irving. On the down side, they sound a lot like the big club in the sense of no goal scoring. When the Flames signed Karlsson, I was wondering if Irving would bounce back or crumble with his label of “mentally weak”. Great to see he is bouncing back and working hard. Hopefully come next camp or in case of a call up he is ready to take the next step! I also have been critical of Nemisz before the season but sounds like he is developing well and hearing that he is on the penalty kill is much to my surprise.

Jim Playfair! There is a reason why some feel he should be at the NHL level. We all know about his defensive smarts and it is great to hear and see him develop these young guys into solid responsible hockey players at all ends of the ice. Likewise, sounds like the room is a healthy one and as Flames fans that is encouraging to hear!

I agree that Backlund needs to play; it would not hurt him if he played in the AHL although I feel he can play and be effective with the big clubs as well. But until a change is made and the team decides what direction they are going in, Backlund will mostly likely draw in here and there!

Again thanks to Dan from www.abbynews.com for taking the time to give us his time and thoughts! We wish Dan and his family a very happy holiday season!

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Flames Jambalaya is in no way, shape or form associated with the Calgary Flames Hockey Club or the AHL affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat. This is a fans blog for fans. We just happen to love the Flames, so we write about it.