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New-look Heat set to host Canucks farm team on Sunday
We're still several weeks away from finding out precisely what the Abbotsford Heat's season-opening roster will look like, but the prevalence of peach fuzz is sure to be a defining trait.
With the NHL parent Calgary Flames undergoing an epic tear-it-to-the-ground roster renovation, having traded away veteran stars like Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester in exchange for prospects and draft picks, Abbotsford becomes ground zero for the rebuild.
The composition of the AHL club will trend toward the youthful end of the spectrum this season – wizened elders like Ben Walter, Quintin Laing, Krys Kolanos and Joe Callahan have departed since the end of the Heat's playoff-less 2012-13 campaign, making room for rookie pros like Markus Granlund, Ben Hanowski and Tyler Wotherspoon to fill their skates (providing they don't crack the Flames roster out of training camp).
Heat head coach Troy Ward and new assistant coach Robbie Ftorek are charged with shepherding the youngsters obtained by the organization into NHL-ready contributors, ideally sooner rather than later.
"We're trying to elevate the status of the whole organization in a fast-paced way," Ward acknowledged in a phone interview with The News on Tuesday. "As much as you're patient and you're teaching, you've got to be disciplined and you've got to be hard (on the players) at times. We've got to get a lot out of the young people.
"We'll be extremely young, which is good . . . we'll maybe only have one or two, or maybe someday three, vets. That's significantly different for our fans in Abby. But it's exciting as a coach."
On Wednesday, the Flames are slated to make their first cuts and assign a wave of players to Abbotsford. Players will be traveling on Wednesday and Thursday, with the first on-ice training camp session set for 10 a.m. Friday at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre (AESC). Practices are open to the public.
The first opportunity to take a gander at the new-look Heat in a game situation comes this Sunday, when they host the Utica Comets – the Vancouver Canucks' freshly minted AHL affiliate – in an exhibition tilt (7 p.m., AESC).
It's the first time since 2010-11 that the Heat will face an AHL opponent in the preseason, owing to their far-flung location relative to the rest of the league.
"We have some tryout guys coming in because we have a new affiliation with Alaska (the ECHL's Aces), so we'll take a look at some guys," Ward said, looking ahead to the exhibition game. "But 95 per cent of our players are going to be coming from Calgary."
Ward helmed the Flames' prospect squad at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton earlier this month, and transitioned from there into the NHL club's training camp. Asked who among the youngsters has impressed him in the early going, he declined to delve into specifics.
"To be honest with you, I don't know if there's really one guy," he said. "I think everybody's having a little blip of the screen, so to speak. They're all doing OK.
"The reason I say that is, now we've got to figure out the whole emotional toll of being cut (on Wednesday) . . . That's a real hard time. It's a little bit of a work in progress."