Monsters and Heat Meet Again

For the first time since the season’s opening weekend, the Lake Erie Monsters and Abbotsford Heat are set to meet, and again, it’ll be a two-game set over two nights. Only this time, the games will be played in Abbotsford, British Columbia. Situated about an hour’s drive from Vancouver, Abbotsford is an outlier in the American Hockey League from a geographical standpoint, but the Heat have been in the running for the top spot in the Western Conference since the puck dropped to open the season.

Being the visiting team tonight in Abbotsford may not be the worst thing in the world for the Monsters, who fell 2-1 and 1-0 to the Heat in the first two games this season; both of which were played at Quicken Loans Arena. Aside from the fact that offense has been easier to come by for the Monsters recently than it was over the season’s first few weeks, the Abbotsford Heat is just 2-5-1-0 in the confines of the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Center. Interestingly enough, the team that has to travel a greater distance than any other AHL team is 14-3-0-0 on the road. Away from The Q, the Monsters are 5-5-1-0.

A trip to Abbotsford is a homecoming for Monsters forward David van der Gulik for multiple reasons. First of all, the Monsters leading scorer is an Abbotsford native. For that reason alone, and the fact that he has said it’s a special road trip for him to return to the area in which he developed early in his hockey life, there’s reason to think van der Gulik will have some extra jump in his step Friday and Saturday night against the Heat. What’s more is the fact that van der Gulik played for the Heat during the team’s inaugural season in Abbotsford in 2009-10.

Ben Walter, the Monsters leading scorer with 70 points last season, is now on the Abbotsford side. Walter is tied for the team-lead in assists with 11 entering this weekend’s two-game set. Where the Heat will have a different look is between the pipes; Leland Irving, a former first-round pick and one of the top AHL goalies this season, was promoted to the parent Calgary Flames earlier in the week due to an injury. The combo of Danny Taylor and Joni Ortio will backstop the Heat this weekend.

For the Monsters, Greg Mauldin has been one of the driving forces of the offense as of late. He is riding a five-game point streak since November 26; a streak that equals van der Gulik’s team season-high five game point streak from November 10th through November 25th. Ryan Stoa is also carrying a load, mustering eight points over his last six games, including three goals. Luke Walker also has a three-game assist streak, and has five points over his last five games.

A matchup to focus on will be the Monsters surging power play against the stingy Heat penalty killers. The Monsters have scored a goal with a man-advantage in eight of their last nine games; a stretch in which the team is 6-2-0-1. Furthermore, in the 11 games the Monsters have won this season, they have managed to score on the power play in eight of those games. The Heat, on the other hand, boast the top-ranked penalty kill in the AHL at 87.8%.

All of this weekend’s action can be heard on ESPN 850 WKNR. Please note the west coast start time: Friday and Saturday’s games will begin with pregame coverage at 9:55 PM leading up to the puck drop shortly after 10:00 PM.

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