The 28-year-old forward scored late in the second period and it stood up as the winner as the Heat snapped an eight-game losing streak by defeating the Utica Comets 3-1 Friday night.
With a handful of players either called up to the Calgary Flames or on the injured reserve, the Heat had to turn to some of their ECHL affiliate players in Alaska.
"I played a lot of games at the East Coast level and about 20 games at the American League level, so it's definitely nice to get the first one," said Connolly. "That net didn't look too big when I was shooting that puck, so when I saw it go in it was definitely a good feeling."
Connolly, who has 19 games played with three different AHL clubs, gave the Heat a 2-0 lead after being moved from the fourth line to a power-play unit.
"Brendan had really great legs in the first … so I made the switch early in the second period," said Heat head coach Troy Ward. "I just liked his energy tonight, and he got a big goal, so it worked out for us."
Josh Jooris and Derek Smith also scored for Abbotsford (34-21-7).
Heat netminder Olivier Roy had struggled of late, being pulled in three of his last five starts, and allowing 18 goals in that stretch. But Roy made 27 saves in the victory, only allowing one goal on an unlucky bounce.
"The last week has been a rough week," said Roy. "We worked hard in practice … tried to work on my angles, figuring out when to commit to the shooter and not over-committing. The guys did a good job letting me see most of the shots.
"When you see the puck coming and where it's going to go, kudos to the guys in front of me, they made my job a lot easier."
Roy, another ECHL call up, has been thrust into the starting role with Joni Ortio and Joey MacDonald both in Calgary, following Karri Ramo's injury and the trade of Reto Berra.
"I just thought the puck looked really big to him all night long," said Ward. "He tracked it really well. One of the changes in his game was, I thought he was just in better position overall, from the red-line in.
"I felt he was really ready for shots — he wasn't caught off-guard by anything."
Joacim Eriksson made 32 stops for the visiting Comets (26-27-7), while Alex Grenier scored their only goal. The loss snapped a two-game win streak and leaves Utica nine points out of a playoff spot. It also snaps a six-game domination the Comets had over the Heat this season.
"It's huge," said Roy of the win over the Comets. "We've been having a rough stretch lately, especially against Utica, who came in here before and stole games. They play hard and never quit.
"We tried to match their intensity today and we did a good job of keeping it in their zone."
The Heat opened the scoring on the power play at 12:25, with Jooris redirecting Max Reinhart's centring feed on his backhand.
Abbotsford dominated the second period, but Eriksson did his best to keep the Comets in the game. Turner Elson drove past a defender while shorthanded midway through the frame, and cut to the front of the net, but Eriksson stayed with him and shut the five-hole in time to keep the Comets within a goal.
Eriksson reached across to rob Reinhart on the power play with less than seven minutes to go in the second. The Comets goaltender robbed Brett Olson at the doorstep on another power play before finally succumbing to the Heat pressure in the final seconds.
Eriksson kicked out Corey Locke's rebound attempt into the slot, but Connolly stepped into a slap shot that beat the netminder's outstretched arm with just 12 seconds to go in the period.
Roy was largely untested through two periods but made a few big saves in the final frame.
David Marshall redirected Alex Friesen's shot, but Roy kicked it away four minutes into the third. Then, on a penalty kill, Roy was solid again, including a big save off Colin Stuart in the slot.
The Comets finally got to the 22-year-old netminder at 8:33. Roy stoned Grenier on a backdoor one-timer but the Utica right winger chipped it over the goalie, backing it off a Heat player and in, for his 16th of the year.
"He was awesome tonight," said Connolly of Roy. "The only goal goes off Ben Street and in the net, so he pretty much stopped all their shots. We needed him to have a big game and he stepped up and did."
The Comets had a short power play in the final two minutes but couldn't complete the comeback.
Smith added an empty netter with 28 seconds to play.
Both teams finished 1 for 7 with the man advantage.