By Kristen Odland, Calgary Herald
Jon Rheault is quickly becoming a celebrity in Abbotsford, B.C.
Or, at least, his hair is.
While he's been memorable on the Abbotsford Heat scoresheet during their second-round American Hockey League playoff series against the Hamilton Bulldogs, Rheault's flowing locks are the town's real conversation-starter.
During Tuesday night's 3-2 loss in Game 3 of the North Division best-of-seven final series at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre, the publicity of his hockey hair reached a new level.
"It's getting a little bit out of control," said the 23-year-old former East Coast Hockey Leaguer, who hasn't had a hair cut since July 1 and is growing it long to raise funds to fight cancer. "(Tuesday) night, I was glancing up at the scoreboard during one of the timeouts and I saw a sign that said, 'We love No. 85. We love your hair.' I thought that was kind of funny.
"Coming onto the ice, there's some kids that high-five you," added Rheault. "Makes you feel like you've been here the whole season, the fans up here. It's different than what I'm used to. It's a lot bigger deal and I love it."
The Heat's shifty right-winger is referring to his second season as a professional, which has been split between the ECHL's California-based Ontario Reign and the AHL's Manchester Monarchs and Providence Bruins.
Now, with the Calgary Flames' top feeder club, he's giving good reason for followers in the 403 area code to pay attention.
The Heat dialed up the five-foot-11, 200-pounder when head coach Jim Playfair's squad was hit hard with injuries at the end of the regular season. Five games later, Rheault found himself smack in the middle of Abbotsford's playoff run.
Now, he leads the Heat with six post-season goals and is second only to linemate Brett Sutter in points with eight. By comparison, Rheault is tied in team points with Mikael Backlund, who suited up for 23 National Hockey League games this season and has only scored once in the AHL playoffs.
"You know what it is?" said Rheault, a 2006 NHL draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, who is a free agent. "This organization really gave me an opportunity to show what I can do offensively. Coach (Jim) Playfair, right away when I got here, (put him) on the second line, power play, which was new to me at this level.
"I also know I shouldn't look to far ahead, I could still be in the East Coast League next year. But I hope I'm showing people in this organization and in other organizations that I can play at this level."
After splitting the first two games with Hamilton, the Montreal Canadiens' farm team, Abbotsford is down 2-1 in the series heading into Game 4 tonight at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre. The Heat will host Game 5 on Saturday. If necessary, the series returns to the Copps Coliseum for Game 6 on Monday.
From there, according to Rheault, who knows? But he's willing to do whatever it takes along the way.
"I know that if I'm given an opportunity, I'll work my hardest and the NHL is in my sights. It's a long ways away, but at the same time, it's not,'' he said. "Sutter played in the NHL, Backlund -- you watch them . . . it just shows you how close it is."