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Goalie Eriksson exceptional as Comets edge Heat in OT
Joacim Eriksson may not have made a wonderful impression on Vancouver Canucks fans during his NHL debut, but it turns out the 23-year-old Swede can tend some goal.
The Abbotsford Heat found that out firsthand on Friday evening, as Eriksson stood on his head to steal two points for the Utica Comets at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
The Heat generated a bushel of quality looks at the Comets keeper, but he turned aside all 36 shots the hosts sent his way, buying his team enough time to win 1-0 on Benn Ferriero's overtime goal.
“We’ve got some pretty good confidence in him now – he’s been playing great for us lately," Ferriero said of Eriksson. "We knew he was in it tonight.”
Eriksson, who had a recent two-week stint with the NHL parent Canucks filling in for an injured Roberto Luongo, saw his first NHL action under less-than-ideal circumstances on Jan. 16 vs. the Anaheim Ducks.
With the Ducks already up 3-0 in the second period, Eriksson entered the game in relief of Eddie Lack, and was ventilated for another six goals (including five on the power play) as Anaheim skated to a 9-1 victory. He was sent back to the AHL affiliate in Utica four days later.
With GM Mike Gillis, among other Canucks brass, in attendance at the AESC on Friday, Eriksson offered a more promising performance vs. the Heat.
Midway through the first period, recent Heat acquisition Corey Locke fed a backdoor pass to Markus Granlund in the slot, but Eriksson plucked the Finnish rookie's rising wrist shot out of the air with his glove.
In the second period, Sven Baertschi drove to the net on the rush and had a rebound fall between his skates. He tried to shovel the puck into the open net, but Eriksson dove to his left and got the paddle down on the goal line to deny him. Referee Darcy Burchell originally signalled goal, but overturned it after a video review (see replay, below).
Late in the frame, Heat defenceman Chris Breen sprung Max Reinhart on a clear breakaway with a lovely stretch pass from deep in his own zone, but Eriksson kicked out his right pad to steer aside Reinhart's low shot.
Despite the Heat's ability to generate golden scoring chances, the Comets gained some traction in the second period – their big forwards harassed the Heat into reversing the puck constantly, when they weren't turning it over outright.
Abby goalie Joni Ortio consistently cleaned up his teammates' messes, though, with a big assist from Breen – the 6'7" blueliner was a shot-blocking machine, at one point snuffing three Comets shots with his shin pads on a single shift.
"He made more saves than Orts, quite frankly," Heat head coach Troy Ward cracked.
"After the second period, I said to the guys, 'Who do we keep cheering for? Who's playing so great for us?' And they all said Breen. I said, 'Isn't that kind of messed up?' The puck's in our end the whole game. If we're cheering for Breen the whole game, it doesn't say much about the rest of the group."
The third period was more of the same from Eriksson – Granlund, Baertschi and Carter Bancks, among others, had good looks, but all were stymied.
Ortio was excellent at the other end, stopping Darren Archibald and Nicklas Jensen on big blasts off the rush.
Ferriero finally broke the deadlock at 2:22 of OT, rattling a top-corner shot off Ortio's blocker and shoulder and into the net.
“We knew it was going to be a greasy goal," said Ferriero, who is on a seven-game point streak. "Both goalies played unbelievable tonight. Luckily the bounce went our way.”
Locke, making his Heat debut after being acquired from the Chicago Wolves on Thursday in a transaction which saw defenceman Mark Cundari head the other way, centered a line with Ben Hanowski and Brett Olson.
He found out about the deal at noon Chicago time on Thursday, then hustled to pack his things and arrived in Abbotsford at 2 a.m.
Understandably, he didn't have boatloads of energy, but he showed flashes of the playmaking ability that earned him the AHL's MVP award for 2010-11.
"It was a long day yesterday, and it was tough, but I'm really excited to be here," said Locke, who crossed paths with Ward with the Houston Aeros in 2008-09, when the latter was an assistant coach.
"There was a lot of information thrown at me, and I'm trying to get used to guys. I'll be better. I didn't have the most energy, but I tried to give it everything I had.
"Just being in the locker room for one game and in the morning, it's a great group of young guys that want to do well and work hard. I think it'll be a lot of fun."
• The Comets (14-20-5) have now won five in a row vs. the Heat (26-14-3), who will look to reverse that trend on Saturday when the two teams meet again (7 p.m., AESC).
• Reinhart took a deflected point shot in the face in the first period and went straight to the dressing room for stitches, but he was back to start the second.
• The Comets endured some drama on Friday morning. Vaclav Prospal, who was poised to sign a professional tryout (PTO) contract with Utica with the goal of earning a spot with the Canucks, reversed field and told the team he intended to retire.
• Jordan Schroeder, sent to the Comets on a conditioning assignment by the Canucks, registered five shots on goal. He'd been sidelined since mid-October with a broken ankle.