Back when the expectations were that it would be Cal Heeter and not Niko Hovinen who’d be starting the season with Trenton, the former was asked how he’d feel about heading to the capital city.
“Obviously, I’ll go wherever they put me. It doesn’t matter where I end up,” he said in October.
“I’ll give the same effort and give my all if they put me in Trenton or Adirondack, it doesn’t matter to me. I’d much prefer to be playing in the AHL, but if that’s not what they see fit, I totally understand and I’ll go down and work as hard as I can until I get that chance.”
That, of course, was before the 24-year-old got to spend the first half of his first pro season in the American Hockey League, where he played 20 games for the Adirondack Phantoms, splitting time with veteran Scott Munroe. But the writing slowly began to appear on the wall when the Flyers organization traded for Brian Boucher. And speculation really became rampant once Niko Hovinen was put on waivers yesterday…well, speculation for everyone except Heeter, that is.
“I guess that would have been a little bit of foreshadowing if I was paying attention, but I missed it,” he said through a laugh.
“I never really even thought about it, to be honest. I didn’t see that until after I already got the call from (Flyers GM Paul) Holmgren that I was getting sent down. So up until that point, I didn’t really have any idea, so it was tough.”
Heeter, who was signed by the Flyers after a four-year collegiate career at Ohio State, had posted a 2.97 GAA and .906 save percentage in his first foray into the AHL. But still, even with a spot having opened up in Trenton, the move to send him down came as a shock to many…Heeter included.
“I wouldn’t say I’m happy that this is the position I’m in, but I understand why I’m here,” he said.
“From what I was told, it wasn’t due to playing performance or anything, it was just due to logistics. They want to get Boucher a lot of games up there in Adirondack, so they didn’t want me just sitting on the bench and not getting a lot of playing time and experience in games. So they sent me down here so I can keep playing, get a lot of games and continue to improve and work on my game.”
Heeter admits he got off to a slow start in his pro career — he won just four of his first 14 decisions in net — but says he felt like he’d been playing his best hockey over the past month or so.
“I wasn’t playing really well at the beginning of the year, but I think I’ve slowly gotten better since then,” he said.
“I think this past month or month and a half, I’ve been playing my best hockey. I’ve been stopping a lot of shots, playing a lot of games, keeping us in games and giving us a chance to win…it was tough for sure at the beginning, but I tried to adjust as quickly as I could. I had a lot of help from the coaching staff, especially Jeff Reese, he’s really done a lot for me.”
Heeter said he’d like to work on improving his focus while he’s down here — and for just how long that is remains to be determined — and he’ll get his first chance to do that on Saturday night, when he’s projected to make his ECHL debut.
“This is a good opportunity for him to play,” said Titans head coach Vince Williams.
“He’s going to make up a good tandem with (Scott) Wedgewood. We have a depleted roster, but the one thing I feel like we’re stronger is our goaltending. Last year at this time, we didn’t have the support back there to be able to sustain a lot of it.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com