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Heat news and notes: O'Brien keeping upbeat attitude, goalie Roy aims to impress
For Shane O'Brien to mope upon receiving his assignment to the Abbotsford Heat might have been understandable.
The 30-year-old defenceman, after all, hadn't set foot in an AHL locker room since the 2005-06 season. In the years since, he'd established himself as an NHLer – albeit one of the journeyman variety – and had suited up for 528 games with six different franchises.
Hanging his head wouldn't jive with the effervescent O'Brien's style, though. So after clearing waivers on Sunday and being shipped to the Heat by the NHL parent Calgary Flames, he quickly immersed himself in team life, joining his new teammates for a bowling outing.
"He's been great all week," Heat head coach Troy Ward said of O'Brien following Thursday's practice. "He's really a breath of fresh air. He just wants to have fun, he wants to play minutes, he doesn't want to hear he's not good enough.
"He's a veteran with a young man's heart, a young man's attitude. He's able to fit into the group really well . . . he's got a lot of pizzazz to him, a lot of life to him."
O'Brien, who spent two seasons with the Vancouver Canucks (2008-09 and 2009-10), wasn't surprised by his demotion – he'd been averaging just 11:16 of ice time while mustering three assists and a -8 rating in 45 games this season. His last game with the Flames, a 5-4 shootout win vs. the Nashville Predators last Friday, he was -3 in just 5:37 of ice time.
"I had kind of seen it coming," said O'Brien, who's been paired with rookie blueliner Tyler Wotherspoon in practice this week. "Obviously I wasn't playing very much over the course of the season there – I'd been a healthy scratch, and it is what it is.
"I'm just excited to be down here and playing. Coach Ward is a great guy. He's been nothing but first-class with me. He sees the game kind of how I see it, so it was refreshing talking to him. The guys are great here, the boys work hard, and I'm just excited to come in here and play and hopefully help this team win."
GOALIE ROY AIMS TO PROVE HIMSELF
Heat goalie Joey MacDonald has been sidelined this week with a concussion, suffered after taking a shot off the helmet last Saturday vs. the Utica Comets.
His absence opened the door for Olivier Roy, who was recalled Monday from the ECHL's Alaska Aces.
Roy had been something of an organizational afterthought after being acquired in a Nov. 8 trade with the Edmonton Oilers, which saw Roy and NHL defenceman Ladislav Smid become Flames property, with erstwhile Heat players Roman Horak and Laurent Brossoit going the other way.
He had been playing for the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons when the trade went through, and was subsequently assigned to the ECHL's Alaska Aces, where he got a lot of playing time and put up solid numbers – a 13-7-0 record with four shutouts, a 2.10 goals against average and a .922 save percentage.
But Roy had limited contact with Flames management, particularly after general manager Jay Feaster and assistant GM John Weisbrod were fired in mid-December, and he'd never interacted with Heat goalie coach Jordan Sigalet until his recall to the Heat.
He's relishing the opportunity to work with Sigalet this week, though – the Aces don't have a goalie coach – and is doing all he can to establish himself in the organization.
"It was an experience," Roy said with a wry grin, reflecting on the trade. "It's a new start for me, and I've got to re-prove myself to the Calgary Flames."
So far, so good according to Ward.
"Ever since the trade, he's been somewhat of a stepchild," the Heat bench boss noted. "His attitude, his work ethic, his compete in net has been outstanding. He's had a good week of practice.
"He's got a good glove, really quick. Like most East Coast leaguers, he's competing for his life, doesn't want to leave, wants to prove he belongs here."
JONES BACK WITH HEAT
Forward Blair Jones was re-assigned to Abbotsford on Thursday after clearing waivers, and the Heat can only hope he quickly rediscovers the form that had him tearing up the AHL in October and November.
Jones racked up eight goals and 13 assists in 16 games prior to a well-deserved recall by the Flames.
His NHL stint was marred by injury – he missed 12 games due to a knee ailment – and he returned on Jan. 18, just in time to be inserted in the starting lineup for the much-publicized brawl with the Vancouver Canucks.
Ward noted there's often a bit of hangover when a player is sent down from the NHL club, but he believes Jones will be well-equipped to handle it.
"I always say, you get hit in the head 99 times, the 100th time doesn't hurt," Ward said. "You've already been punched, it's time to grow up and move on.
"Hopefully he jumps in and plays really well. That doesn't mean he's going to – there's still the emotion, and we all handle emotional situations different. But I would like to say his ability to jump in and play well for us would be quicker than it has in the past."
HEAT ADD TOUGH GUY GILLIES
Trevor Gillies, one of hockey's most prolific enforcers, was signed by the Heat on Thursday.
The 6'3", 231-pound native of Cambridge, Ont. has piled up the penalty minutes throughout his pro career, which has included 57 NHL games (261 penalty minutes), 380 AHL games (1,536 PIMs), and 222 ECHL games (1,069 PIMs).
Gillies's NHL tenure was highlighted by a pair of lengthy suspensions while with the New York Islanders – a nine-game ban for an attack on Pittsburgh Penguins forward Eric Tangradi, and a 10-gamer for a hit on Minnesota Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck.
He began this season with HIFK Helsinki – the same Finnish squad that current Heat players Markus Granlund and Joni Ortio suited up for last season – and racked up 54 penalty minutes in three games, highlighted by a sucker-punch to ex-Canucks pest Jarkko Ruutu that reportedly drew police attention. More recently, Gillies played five games with the ECHL's Orlando Solar Bears, with 21 penalty minutes.
"That's a (Flames) management decision – we're going to mirror Calgary in a lot of ways," Ward said, explaining the Gillies acquisition. "They have (Brian) McGrattan and (Kevin) Westgarth, and we have (Lane) MacDermid and Gillies. It's pretty much the same, tit for tat.
"I'm going to play him right away, and we'll see how it goes. . . . It's definitely going to give our team a different identity, for sure. This guy is no weakling, and he's not normal – he's a little bit crazy.
"He's got his little idiosyncrasies – I don't think he touches the puck in warm-up," Ward added. "I've heard he's a really, really good man and a great team guy, which is usually the case with those guys."
Two weeks ago, the Heat had just one player who would be classified as an AHL veteran, with more than 260 professional games on his resumé – defenceman Dean Arsene.
Suddenly, Ward has six on his hands – Jones, O'Brien and Derek Smith (reassigned by Flames), Corey Locke (acquired via trade) and Gillies, in addition to Arsene. And that's something of a problem, because teams are only allowed to play five in a given game.
Ward suggested that Arsene, the Heat's captain, might be the odd man out more often than not, based on the fact Jones, O'Brien and Smith are on NHL contracts, Locke's playmaking and experience at centre is essential, and Gillies is mandated to play by management.
HEAT ON TV
The Heat are launching a show on Shaw TV Abbotsford called "Heat This Week."
Play-by-play broadcaster Brandon Astle will host the 30-minute show, which will air four times weekly. The debut episode airs this Thursday at 3:30 p.m., with reruns on Friday (11:30 p.m.) and Saturday (5:30 a.m., 7:30 p.m.).
For fans not in the Abbotsford area or without access to Shaw TV Abbotsford, the show will be available for viewing on abbotsfordheat.com.
MAHOVLICH IN THE HOUSE
The Heat host the Hamilton Bulldogs in a Friday-Saturday set this weekend (7 p.m. both nights, Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre), and Hockey Hall of Famer Frank Mahovlich will be the guest of honour on Friday as part of the team's Legends of Hockey series.
Mahovlich will sign autographs on the concourse of the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre on a first come, first served basis.
He recorded 533 goals, 750 assists, and 1103 points in 1181 NHL games for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens, and is a six-time Stanley Cup winner (1962-64 and '67 with the Maple Leafs, and 1971 and '73 with the Canadiens). He was also a member of Team Canada for the 1972 and 1974 Summit Series.