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N A M E D N O R T H A M E R I C A ’ S B E S T S U B U R B A N N E W S PA P E R S E C T I O N 2 0 1 0

NEMISZ LOVING LIFE WITH HEAT PAGE 3

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OVECHKIN VS. CROSBY PAGE 6

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O F F I C I A L

F A N

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

3

G U I D E

Heat rookie forward Greg Nemisz (centre) battles for a loose puck under the watchful eye of head coach Jim Playfair. John Morrow photo

John Morrow photo

Nemisz finding his way DanKINVIG ABBOTSFORD NEWS

On the topic of promising young hockey teams, Greg Nemisz is something of an

authority. For the four seasons prior to this one, Nemisz was a key player on one of the greatest junior teams of all time – the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor SpitÄres. Nemisz’s SpitÄres secured their legacy by winning back-to-back Memorial Cup championships in 2009 and 2010. He was one of Äve players from those starstudded title teams – along with Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Ryan Ellis and Zack Kassian – to be picked to represent Canada at the World Juniors. Two exSpitÄres – Hall of the Edmonton Oilers and Cam Fowler of the Anaheim Ducks

– are already earning an NHL paycheque. So when Nemisz says the vibe around the Abbotsford Heat these days reminds him of his early years with the SpitÄres, it’s a strong statement. “I’ve said this to my friends back home a lot – it feels like my Ärst few years in Windsor when we were Ärst coming together,” said Nemisz, a 20-year-old rookie pro, reÅecting on his Ärst three months of pro hockey in Abbotsford. “That’s why we’re winning games – it’s a great group of guys, and it’s fun to come to the rink every day.” During Nemisz’s rookie season in Windsor, 2006-07, the SpitÄres struggled mightily and missed the OHL playoffs with an 18-43-7 record. Two seasons

later, of course, Windsor was hoisting the Memorial Cup. The Heat aren’t approaching that level of dominance in the AHL at this point, but Nemisz sees a parallel in the way the Windsor and Abbotsford clubs go about their business. The Heat, from all accounts, are unusually tight-knit group that is building a foundation of unselÄshness and hard work. “We went through our struggles when we were younger (in Windsor), but it was just so much fun,” Nemisz said. “We were such a tight-knit group. I still talk to those guys almost every day and see how they’re doing. It was just so amazing, so much fun, and you learn a lot

winning championships like that.” Ask Nemisz what he learned from the championship years in Windsor, and he waxes eloquent on the importance of buying into the team system. It sounds cliché, but the notion of setting aside individual ego for the greater good of the team is a powerful truth. “We had so many all-stars who, if they had wanted to play on another team, they’d have gotten a lot more power play time and put up a lot more points,” Nemisz pointed out. “But when you buy into the team system, you learn how to win. Especially in big games, you Ägure out what it takes to win. That’s something you’ll take with Continued on page 9

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4

ABBOTSFORD NEWS

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

O F F I C I A L

F A N

G U I D E

Hockey coach, and hockey dad E H T

H C N E B

In each edition of the Abbotsford News’s FACEOFF magazine, Abbotsford Heat head coach Jim Playfair sits down with beat reporter Dan Kinvig to give fans the inside scoop on the team. For future editions of FACEOFF, fans are invited to pose their own questions to Playfair. Submit your questions for consideration via email to sports@abbynews.com, or via Twitter to @dankinvigsports. We caught up with Playfair via phone last week, in the midst of an East Coast road trip.

Q Jim PLAYFAIR

It seems like your team is Äguring things out on home ice of late. You won three of four during last week’s homestand, and you’re 9-6-1 overall this season. What do you attribute that to?

A“It’s a different team and a different

year. It’s not one speciÄc thing. I really think we’ve got an incredible group of young men. I think their character is excellent, and I think they’ve really bought into preparing and competing each and every night. Whether it’s at home or away, I think we’ve done a good job of that as a team. “We expect ourselves to be a good

home-ice team, and we know that in order to build a franchise in Abbotsford, we have to be a team that can win in our building. We expect that from ourselves.”

Q

The Peoria Rivermen are coached by your former assistant Jared Bednar, and you had an opportunity to play them on the road in late November. How would you evaluate the job Jared’s done this season, and to what extent have you kept tabs?

A“I’ve watched Jared very closely, and it’s been pretty well-documented I’ve been proud of him. To me, he’s one of the top coaches in the American Hockey League, if not the top coach. I know he’s really close to coaching the all-star game this year. I’ve said all along that Jared is a top coach, and he’s certainly proving it now. I think he’ll probably be the next coach out of the American Hockey League to be an NHL coach, actually.”

Q

Your son Dylan, 18, is playing junior A with the Merritt Centennials; Jackson, 16, is with the Fraser Valley Bruins of the B.C. Major Midget League; and Austyn, 14, is playing

bantam AA for the Abbotsford Hawks. What’s it like being a professional hockey coach, and a hockey dad?

A“I’m proud of our kids. They’ve

come a long way, having to be moved around the countryside. We’ve moved them from America, to the East Coast, to Calgary, and now out to the West Coast. They’ve found a way into the community through hockey and school. The biggest thing for me is that they’re able to Änd their own way. “Dylan’s a real high-energy, aggressive player. He’s a great teammate, a great character guy, and he’s a really wellversed person. He’s mature beyond his years, and he’s got a good understanding of people. “Jackson’s a very dedicated, focused, skilled player who understands the dressing room and gets a sense of what a team is supposed to shake up to be like. He’s learning how to be a good leader. “And then, Austyn’s a quiet player who’s got a real good skill level. And again, he understands the most important part of the team situation is the dressing room structure. “Roxanne and I are proud of the kids, Continued on page 11

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Stay-at-home defencemen like yourself tend to Åy under the radar with the fans and media. Do you ever have days where you wish you had a more glamorous role? “True, media and fans don’t always notice you. But you get rewarded by your coaches and teammates. Those guys know what you do – blocking shots, killing penalties, contributing when you can offensively. When those people appreciate what you do, that’s what really counts.” I came across a photo of you, circa 2007, and I don’t want to use the term mullet, but you deÄnitely had some pretty shaggy hockey hair. You’re clean-cut these days – what happened? “In college I started that. I had long hair for probably three years, at least. It wasn’t a mullet, but if you put me in a helmet, it sort of looked like it. I just let it go for a while, but I decided I needed to change it up. Maybe I’ll bring it back.” As an American, who’s your favourite U.S.-born player of all time? “Being from Wisconsin, we didn’t have our own NHL team. We had the (Minnesota) Wild and the (Chicago) Blackhawks. So I used to be a Blackhawks fan, and I was a big fan of Chris Chelios, being a defenceman growing up. He played for the (NCAA’s Wisconsin) Badgers, and he was always my guy to look up to.”

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ABBOTSFORD NEWS

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

O F F I C I A L

THE GREAT

6

F

OVECHKIN v

When hockey fans are arguing about the identity of the best player in the game, the conversatio A pair of Abbotsford Heat players have had the opportunity to get an up-close-and-perso

Between 2007 and 2010, he suited up for 76 games with Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals.

QUINTIN LAING “He wants to win so badly. You see it all the time. Even if it’s a drill in practice and his team gets scored on, he gets upset. Or if we’re playing ping-pong in the dressing room, or poker. But on the ice, especially – he wants to win the Stanley Cup, he wants to win that Olympic gold. He has a drive in him to be the very best.”

What makes Ov such a speci

“It didn’t get shown in many highlights, but we were down in a game against Montreal, and he gets cranked. He broke his nose, and it probably would have put most guys out (of the game). But he got it Äxed, and he came back and scored two more times to tie it, and then scored the game-winner in overtime. He played through a lot of injuries, and not a lot of people know that.”

What’s the crazie ever seen him m

“He’s really energetic. He’s always got his headphones on, bouncing around to techno music. He’s loud – you always know he’s in the room. You even know when he’s in the vicinity of the room. He’s always yelling or chirping somebody.”

What’s the man

“I think it’s a real thing. Crosby’s already got what he wants, with the Olympics and the Stanley Cup. He (Ovechkin) has got this competitive side to him where he wants to be considered the best. He sees him (Crosby) as his main competition, and I don’t think they get along deep down.” “Before this year, I would have said Ovechkin. But this year, no question it’s Crosby. His point streak is unbelievable, and every game you watch, he’s getting seven or eight scoring chances and setting up another seven or eight. It’s amazing how talented he is and how he controls the game.”

From what you sa the Crosby-Ovec

Where do you Crosby vs. Ovec


ABBOTSFORD NEWS

F A N

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

G U I D E

THE KID

vs CROSBY

on generally begins and ends with one of two names: Alexander Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby. onal look at the two superstars in recent years, and we asked them for their insights.

Drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2003, he played eight games with Crosby’s squad between 2007 and 2009.

RYAN STONE

vechkin/Crosby ial player?

est play you’ve make in person?

“I think it’s just his work ethic and his commitment. He’s always at the rink, always working hard. He’s so dedicated. Everything he does is calculated and done for a reason. Everyone says what a good player he is, and I had a chance to sit on the bench and watch him play, and he’s just phenomenal.”

“There’s no one story. It’s just how big his legs are. He’s so powerful with his legs and his core, and no one can take the puck from him.”

like off the ice?

“Just sitting around at the rink chatting with him, he’s a good guy. He’s a guy who’s down to earth. You kind of expect it because of all the stories you hear about him, but they’re true. He’s a really good guy.”

aw, how real is chkin rivalry?

“It’s two of the best players in the league going at it, so there’s always a bit more bragging rights, I guess, if one guy comes out on top. But most guys would rather get the team win than score three goals in the losing effort just to spite the other guy.”

stand on the chkin debate?

“They’re both great players. I think they’re different players, obviously. But if I was picking in the Ärst round and they were both there, I’d probably take Sid. He’s a Canadian guy, and he’s proven he’s a winner.”

7


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ABBOTSFORD NEWS

O F F I C I A L

F A N

9

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

G U I D E

Nemisz’s game is well-rounded From A3

you for the rest of your career.” The performances of Nemisz and fellow freshmen like T.J. Brodie, Lance Bouma, Carter Bancks and Gaelan Patterson have been pivotal for a youthful Heat squad that has exceeded expectations this season. With an average age of 23.0 years, Abbotsford’s roster was the AHL’s youngest at the beginning of the 2010-11 campaign. The Hockey News rated the Heat 26th out of 30 teams in its preseason ranking, but through 34 games, the Heat are second in the North Division with a 16-14-4 record. Nemisz, a Ärst-round pick by the Calgary Flames in 2008 (25th overall), has showcased a well-rounded game as a rookie. He’s tied for the team lead in scoring with 17 points (nine goals, eight assists), and he’s also proven to be an effective penalty killer. His four shorthanded points (three goals, one assist) are tied for second-most in the AHL. Versatility is something Nemisz seeks to emphasize in his game. “Being just a scorer, it’s tough to make it (to the NHL),” he noted. “Right now, I’m going through a little bit of a slump offensively, but you try to Änd ways to contribute in other ways – penalty killing, blocking shots, that sort of thing.” The Heat have struggled with injuries in the early going, and head coach Jim Playfair pointed out that Nemisz has been the beneÄciary. “There’s been times when he’s earned his minutes, and times when he’s been given his minutes,” Playfair said, alluding to the injury attrition. “I think that’s not always the best way to develop your young players, but he’s certainly taken advantage of it. “Quite honestly, he’s come a long way in a short period

of time in his Ärst year in terms of being a (defensively) responsible player.” As a Ärst-year pro, a big part of Nemisz’s development is occurring off the ice as he learns to live on his own, rather than with a billet family like in junior hockey. This season, he’s rooming with Brodie, Bryan Cameron and John Negrin. Cameron described the vibe at their house as “competitive.” The Heat youngsters spend their downtime battling for bragging rights via ping pong or video games. “Greg and I are deÄnitely the favourites at ping pong, and we have pretty good battles,” Cameron said with a chuckle. “I guess at video games, the best would probably be T.J. Brodie. And Negrin’s the guitar guy.” Cameron described Nemisz as a level-headed individual, both on and off the ice. “He’s really calm, and he doesn’t let anything bother him,” he said. “He’s one of those guys who’d do anything for you – just a good guy to be around.” Nemisz was a member of Canada’s silver medal-winning squad at last season’s World Juniors, and despite falling short of the gold, he termed experience “amazing.” “You watch it every year since you’re four or Äve years old, and to be part of it was special,” he said. This year’s edition of the World Juniors opens on Boxing Day in Buffalo, N.Y., and Nemisz predicted Canada would re-ascend to the top step of the podium. Ellis and Kassian, his ex-Windsor teammates, will wear the maple leaf. “They don’t have many returning players, but it’s tough not to like Canada’s chances going into the World Juniors every year,” Nemisz noted. “There’s so much talent across the CHL, and there’s always a few more good players in school (NCAA). “I know once Christmas rolls around, I’ll be watching.”

Heat forward Greg Nemisz was a member of Canada’s entry at last year’s World Junior Championship, and helped Team Canada to a silver medal.

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ABBOTSFORD NEWS

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

O F F I C I A L

Dave SHELDON

play

playby

F A N

G U I D E

Keetley could use some luck Oh, to be a backup goalie! You’re the last guy off the ice at practice, making sure all the other players are challenged so they can be sharp for games. It’s like going to prom and having to sit in the corner all dressed up, watching everybody else get up to dance except for you. By the way, you go to about 80 proms a year and you don’t know when you’ll get to dance! Then, when you get asked to dance, you better look like John Travolta out there. Despite the fact you may go a month at a time without cutting the rug, the expectation is that you are a pro and can be counted on to win. Matt Keetley is currently in that role with the Abbotsford Heat. He’s sort of like the Maytag repairman. The only guy that gets on the ice less than the backup goalie is…well, nobody. Keetley has been a pro netminder for four seasons now, and this season deÄnitely has been a challenge. After last year, when Keetley, Leland Irving and David Shantz were playing musical goalies, the Medicine Hat, Alta. native found himself on the outside looking in down the stretch. This year, with the departure of Shantz, Keetley and Irving battled it out to see who would be the one to be the No. 1 goalie in Abbotsford. In Flames training

camp, it was decided that Irving would get that Ärst shot, and he hasn’t looked back, which leaves Keetley in the unenviable position of playing sporadically. Last Wednesday, Keetley was given his Ärst start in over a month by head coach Jim Playfair. The opponent that night was the AHL-leading Wilkes-

‘‘

When you get asked to dance, you better look like John Travolta.

Barre/Scranton Penguins. Keetley’s record heading in was 0-4-1, and in three of his losses, the Heat could only manage to score one goal for him. The Ärst period typiÄed his season. Despite outshooting the home side 14-4 in their own building, the Heat trailed 1-0 on a goal that banked in off the thigh of Pens forward Keven Veilleux. In the second period, the Heat were under attack all period as they killed off

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three consecutive penalties. No penalty killer was better than Keetley – he turned aside all 13 shots Äred his way. In the third period, the Heat came alive. With 1:43 left in regulation, Keith Seabrook scored the equalizer. The Heat had new life and so did their goalie. But on a routine faceoff in overtime, Penguins captain Ryan Craig – an Abbotsford native – won the draw back to the point, where a slap shot by Steve Wagner took a left-hand turn at Albuquerque, banking off the shin pad of forward Nick Johnson and into the net. It was over, and Keetley remained on his knees for several seconds after the goal, perhaps praying for some intervention so he could catch a break. The good news was, he played great and earned his team a point against the league’s best. The bad news was, he still had an ‘0’ in the win column. So for Christmas, here’s hoping that Keetley can catch a break and get a win, then another, then another. In the meantime, you will Änd him in the corner of the rink, tying up his dance shoes, waiting for the pretty girl to ask him to dance again. Dave Sheldon is the director of communications and broadcast for the Abbotsford Heat. He writes a monthly column for Faceoff magazine.

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ABBOTSFORD NEWS

O F F I C I A L

F A N

G U I D E

Kenn Silvester - age 31, season ticket holder Q

MEET the HEAT

fan

What’s your favourite thing about coming to Heat games?

A“I like the fact that you’re only one step away from

the NHL level, for a quarter or half the price. I mean, we watched Mikael Backlund last year, and where is he now? He’s on the same team as Jarome Iginla. “I used to go to Vancouver Giants games, and then I went to Chilliwack Bruins games for a while, but now I’m here because it’s close to home. I’ve watched a lot of these players as they were coming up in the WHL – J.D. Watt, Lance Bouma, Carter Bancks.”

Q

11

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Who’s your favourite opposing player to heckle?

A“I’ve got a few. Any ex-Vancouver Canuck – Wade

Brookbank, Curtis Sanford. We started a Sanford chant when he was playing for the Hamilton Bulldogs here last year. I had a four-year-old girl sitting behind me who could barely speak who was going, ‘Sanford, Sanford, Sanford.’ Her parents told me she went home that night and kept chanting it until she Änally went to bed.”

Q

How do you support the Heat when you’re away from the rink?

A“I own four Heat game-worn jerseys – Jason Jaffray, Matt Keetley, David Shantz and J.D. Watt.”

Q

Who’s your favourite Heat player?

A“I’ve got two – Matt Keetley and J.D. Watt. I love J.D.

– I’ve followed him from the time he was 15, and he’s one of those guys who plays with an edge but also has soft hands. I like Keetley because he’s a guy who no one wants to give a chance to. When he’s in net, he gives you a chance to win every game, but fans don’t like to back him for some reason.”

‘One of the things I’m proudest of ’

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and I think as a professional coach, the guidance I’ve given them has been more based a lot more on how to be a good teammate, how to make sure your team is ready to play, how to be aware of what’s going on in your dressing room and how to help your coaches sort that out. “I’ve never, ever really talked to them about the structure of play . . . I’ve never interfered at all with any of their coach’s styles. All I’ve done is reinforce what the kids need to do – to pay attention and do what you’re told.”

Q

I understand Austyn’s been a stick boy for the Heat the past couple years.

A“At the end of the day, that’s probably

Heat head coach Jim Playfair watches Logan MacMillan run thr0ugh a drill during a recent practice at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.

one of the things I’m the proudest of. I wish the other boys had the opportunity to come into the dressing room and see me do what I do for a living and be a part of it. “He was actually at the rink the night I broke all the sticks last season, and he ended up picking up all the pieces. (Playfair chuckles) He brought them to me a couple days later. “They’re really mature kids, and they have a real good understanding of what goes on. Like I say, they’d probably be the better people to ask about how and why I’ve inÅuenced them in their careers.”

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12

ABBOTSFORD NEWS

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

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G U I D E

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Abbotsford FaceOff Tue Dec 28 2010  

Compelling in-depth news and photos of the Abbotsford Heat, Abbotsford's professional AHL team

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