Heat rise and shine, beat Amerks in school day game
With a crowd of energetic school kids cheering them on, the Abbotsford Heat's top-ranked defence did a commendable job of slowing the AHL's highest-scoring team on Tuesday morning.
The Rochester Americans came in leading the league in goals per game at 3.52, while the Heat were surrendering a stingy 2.11.
But it was Abbotsford's smothering defensive system which won the day – they limited Rochester to 19 shots on goal and killed off all eight Amerks power plays en route to a 3-2 victory.
"Usually the team that kind of wakes up first and gets going wins the game," Heat goalie Danny Taylor said, reflecting on the early 10:30 a.m. start.
"The biggest thing was our PK. I thought it was outstanding today. They (the Amerks) didn't get a lot of looks, and the ones that they did shoot, I could see. We just blocked so many pucks and had sticks in the lanes."
It all played out in front of a crowd of 6,172 at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre, the vast majority of them middle school students bused to the rink for the Heat's second annual school day game.
The youngsters, tirelessly clapping their thundersticks throughout the game, provided a unique energy – it's safe to say that "Gangnam Style" and "Call Me Maybe" have never received such an enthusiastic response at the rink as when they came over the loudspeakers on Tuesday.
Rochester forward Frederick Roy opened the scoring at 3:50 of the first period, tipping Jonathan Parker's point shot into the top corner behind Taylor.
Brett Carson equalized less than two minutes later, ripping a rocket from the point past Amerks goalie Connor Knapp. The Heat blueliner has provided an offensive boost since joining the club in mid-January – the goal was his fourth in eight games with Abbotsford.
"I just figured coming in, I just had to shoot pucks," said Carson, who has also notched three assists this season with the Heat. "Good things happen when you throw pucks at the net, and things have been going in for me. I'm going to keep shooting as many as I can."
Ben Street gave the Heat their first lead, crushing a one-timer past Knapp from the right faceoff circle on a two-man advantage.
Joe Piskula made it 3-1 in the middle frame, firing a seeing-eye wrist shot from the point that found its way through a crowd and between Knapp's legs.
With Knapp on the bench in the final minute, Nick Tarnasky drew Rochester to within a goal. After the Heat missed a glorious chance to clear the zone, the puck squirted back to Tarnasky in front of the net, and he whirled and fired a shot past Taylor.
The early start was a challenge, but Taylor noted it was the same for both teams.
"It was almost like our pregame skate was yesterday afternoon, and our afternoon nap was really a night's sleep," he said. "You get up and go through the same routine when you wake up from a nap, and then you go play the game."
• The Heat (24-15-7, 55 points) and Amerks (24-16-3, 51 points) renew hostilities on Wednesday evening (7 p.m., AESC).
• Abbotsford native Nathan Lieuwen dressed as the backup goalie for the Amerks on Tuesday. He was called up from the ECHL's Greenville (Georgia) Road Warriors in the absence of Rochester first-stringer David Leggio, who was attending a funeral. Lieuwen, a first-year pro, has a 14-10-2 record to go with a 2.93 goals against average and a .903 save percentage with Greenville this season.