A rookie defenceman from Thorsby has found a home on the St. Albert Steel's blue line.
"Lately I feel I belong here. I'm getting more comfortable on the ice. It's a good feeling," said Jordan Abt, who played in his 41st Alberta Junior Hockey League game in Wednesday's 3-1 loss to the Lloydminster Bobcats.
The 18-year-old worked his way onto the Steel roster in training camp and was in the line-up for the season opener.
"I thought I did pretty good when I came here. I kept on getting better and I'm still here," Abt said. "My skating and passing has improved. I'm also in a lot better shape than I have ever been."
It's been a work in progress for the sturdy six-foot, 175-pound rearguard.
"It was real fast when I got here. I was kind of surprised. You don't have much time with the puck. You've got to let it go," he said. "There are a lot more bigger guys too."
He survived the Jan. 10 trade deadline as the Steel dealt assistant captain Nick Scott, the team's highest scoring defenceman, to the Drumheller Dragons for 17-year-old forward Justin Morello.
"I wasn't really thinking about it. Whatever happened, happened," Abt said.
The departure of Scott, a third-year Steel player, left the team with six defencemen and the only rookie was Abt.
"Nick is a good guy. I didn't want to see him go but it gave me a better opportunity here and I guess I'll see how it goes."
With his spot entrenched on the back end, Abt has been paired with Scott's former partner, captain Ryan Edens.
"It's been good. He's a veteran of the league. He helps me out a lot," Abt said of the 20-year-old Steel enforcer and the team's all-time career penalty minute leader with 699 in 163 games. "He wants me to play tougher. I was a pretty dirty player last year but I've toned it down this year. There's bigger guys in this league."
Abt's 96 PIM in 23 games in midget AAA was the third-highest total on the Maple Leafs. He also led the Maple Leafs in goals with 10 and added three assists for the last place team.
With the Steel he has three assists and is pointless in 19 games after the loss in the Border City. His last point was recorded Nov. 21 against the Calgary Royals, a 5-3 win at St. Albert.
"I have no fights and no goals," Abt said. "I want a goal. I got a bunch last year and I don't even have one this year."
Counting Friday's trip to Drayton Valley to play the last-place Thunder (score was unavailable at press time), the Steel had 11 games left until the playoffs for Abt to light the lamp.
"I just want to get it over with. I hit a few posts at the start of the year so I've been close," said Abt, who played midget 15 three years ago and split the next season between midget AA (4-1-5 and 74 PIM in 28 games) and midget AAA (1-1-2 and 10 PIM in 14 games) in Leduc.
If the north division playoffs started this weekend, the sixth-place Steel (20-24-1-4) would be in Fort McMurray for the best-of-five series against the third-place Oil Barons (31-14-2). The Steel's second loss in three games left the team six points back of the fifth-place Bonnyville Pontiacs (24-23-2-1) with a game in hand.
"We're treating all the games like a playoff game," Abt said. "We want as many wins as we can so we can move up the standings."
Against the seventh-place Bobcats (13-28-1-6) the Steel gave up goals in the second period and early in the third before assistant captain Alex Perkins tallied his 11th of the season with 4:06 remaining. Fifty-one seconds later, Brett Slobodzian restored the Bobcats' two goal lead. Shots were 33-29 for St. Albert, including a 19-9 margin in the middle frame. In net was Chad Ketting (4-3-1, 4.28 GAA).
"The wins are coming," Abt said of the Steel's 4-5-0-1 record in the last 10 games, in addition to improved defensive play by the league-leaders in goals-against with 215. "It's going to get a lot better by playoffs. Hopefully we can get past the first round."
The Steel were coming off three games in three days with wins of 3-2 against the AJHL champion Grande Prairie Storm and 4-3 against Bonnyville at Performance Arena and the 5-3 loss in Drayton Valley.
"We played very well last weekend. Against Drayton we kind of fell apart. I guess we got a little too high on ourselves after [defeating Grande Prairie] but we came back and beat Bonnyville. We put in a good effort that game."
The Steel travel Thursday to Grande Prairie to play the second-place Storm (33-12-1-2).
The next home game is Feb. 5 against Lloydminster at 7 p.m.
ICE CHIPS: Assistant captain Bryce Williamson extended his point-scoring streak to 10 games (eight goals, including the 100th of his AJHL career, and 11 assists) with an assist in Lloydminster. Going into Friday's game against Drayton Valley (12-32-2-3) the 20-year-old right-winger ranked second in the AJHL scoring race with 85 points, on 34 goals and 51 assists in 49 games. The Steel's MVP was one point back of the Storm's Zahn Raubenheimer (37-49-86 in 48 games) for top spot.