Heat coach Ward primed for Penticton tourney
Past and future members of the Abbotsford Heat, like so many school-aged kids, will be delivering reports this week on how they spent their summer vacations.
The hockey players will tell their tale on the ice at the Young Stars Tournament, a five-day event which opens on Sunday at Penticton's South Okanagan Events Centre.
"In general, they're just going to go out there and play," said new Heat head coach Troy Ward, who will be helming the Calgary Flames prospects squad in Penticton. "We're not going to give them a whole lot of structure. But I will say this – we're going to find out which guys have put in the time in the off-season.
"Are they playing at a higher level and a quicker pace than they were a year ago? Have they gotten physically more gifted? Have they shed some body weight? Have they picked up speed in their game? You kind of get a little bit of a snapshot to see what they've done for the past four or five months since they left Abbotsford. For me, it's an indicator as to their work ethic and their character."
The Flames, the Heat's NHL parent club, are sending a team of prospects to Penticton for the second straight year. Other entries include the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, San Jose Sharks and Winnipeg Jets.
The 30-man Flames roster that will hit the ice in Penticton features 14 players who suited up for the Heat last season, including forwards Greg Nemisz, Lance Bouma and Carter Bancks, and defencemen T.J. Brodie, Chris Breen and John Negrin.
Others, like former Chilliwack Bruins standouts Ryan Howse and Roman Horak, are poised to turn pro this season, most likely with Abbotsford. (Full prospects roster at bottom of article)
The Flames open the tourney on Sunday against the Sharks (4 p.m. start). They also play the Canucks (Monday, 4 p.m.) and the Oilers (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.).
The Penticton event represents Ward's debut as a head coach in the Flames organization – he served as a Heat assistant last season under Jim Playfair, who departed in June to join the Phoenix Coyotes.
Ward is breaking in an entirely new coaching staff, which includes assistants Cail MacLean and Luke Strand and goalie coach Jordan Sigalet. MacLean (ECHL's South Carolina Stingrays) and Strand (USHL's Sioux City Musketeers) were both head coaches last season, while Sigalet tutored the keepers with the WHL's Everett Silvertips.
Ward held staff meetings in Abbotsford last week, before heading to Calgary on Wednesday for the start of Flames prospects camp. He's particularly excited about Sigalet's addition, in light of the fact the Heat didn't have a full-time goalie coach over their first two seasons in Abbotsford.
"I like what he's added to our staff," Ward said. "It brings a whole new level of professionalism to what we do."
PLANE CRASH STUNS HOCKEY COMMUNITY
The hockey world was rocked on Wednesday after a plane carrying Kontinental Hockey League squad Lokomotiv crashed, killing 43 people, including former Flame Brad McCrimmon and ex-Canuck Pavol Demitra.
Early reports indicated that former Heat forward Riley Armstrong was on the plane, but it turned out he had been erroneously listed on a Lokomotiv roster. Armstrong, who suited up for the Heat in 2009-10, was in fact back home in Saskatoon, preparing to take part in training camp with the AHL's St. John's IceCaps.
Ward said he didn't know any of the deceased players or coaches personally, but noted it was another devastating blow for the hockey community, which was already mourning the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak in earlier the off-season.
"It's obviously a difficult time, especially here in Calgary," Ward said, alluding to the fact Lokomotiv head coach McCrimmon was a member of the Flames' 1989 Stanley Cup-winning team.
"He's a former player here, and a guy who obviously had a big part in the hockey world as a coach and a player. It's just been an endless summer, relative to the three players and now this."
MORE HEAT HIRES
In addition to the new coaching hires, the Heat have also added a new equipment manager in Peter Bureaux, and a new trainer in Chris Linder. Bureaux was with the Rochester Americans last season, while Linder joins the Heat from the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
ALL-STAR GAME GOING TO ATLANTIC CITY
The AHL announced Thursday that the 2012 All-Star Classic will be held at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J. The skills competition runs Sunday, Jan. 29, followed by the all-star game on Monday, Jan. 30.
FLAMES PROSPECT ROSTER
The following is a list of the Calgary Flames' roster for prospects camp and the Young Stars Tournament. Players who have suited up for the Heat are denoted with a star.