Huska primed for challenge with baby Flames
Former WHL head coach ready to help develop franchise’s prospects
Heading into the summer, Ryan Huska wasn’t looking for a change of pace or scenery.
But if someone was looking …
“We were listening,” the new Calgary Flames’ American Hockey League boss said the other day, following his first National Hockey League rookie camp where he put some of his future charges through the paces. “My family knew that sooner or later if we wanted to make this a career, we’d have to make a move.
“And when this opportunity came to be, it was something we really didn’t have to think that hard over.”
Who could blame him for entertaining the offer?
The new gig is a step up the ladder from the Kelowna Rockets, where he’d been stationed for the last 12 seasons in the Western Hockey League, to the AHL’s newest affiliate in Glens Falls, N.Y.
And, frankly, there wasn’t much more left for the Cranbrook native to accomplish at the WHL and junior level.
Spending the last seven seasons as head coach, Huska had spent the five previous as an assistant. He’d been to the Memorial Cup three times and won the 2009 WHL championship (losing in the Memorial Cup finals that year with then-future Flames forward Mikael Backlund). He has also spent time on the world junior coaching staff.
“It’s time for me, coaching-wise … it’s time for me to learn some new things,” said Huska who, as a 1993 third-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, had a few stops at Adirondack while dabbling in the minors. “It’s time to work with men now and try to get them to be contributors to this organization.”
He’s also been around long enough to know the business, especially the correlation between the AHL level and the NHL — players are shuttled back and forth on a regular basis.
“Things have to be seamless between Adirondack and Calgary,” Huska said. “I have to get myself familiar with how the team plays, some of the language that is used with the players so we can make it a smooth transition when guys do get called up.”
And there are slight differences between junior-aged players (16 to 21) and AHL players. Yes, there is the odd teenager to manage and develop (and, occasionally, teach them how to grocery shop). But, then, there is also the AHL veteran over 30.
“A lot of these guys have never lived on their own before and they need some guidance,” said the 38-year-old. “It’s up to us to become professionals as soon as possible … I’m honest with them, I try to be fair with them, and try to let them know what’s expected. Then, it’s our coaching staff’s responsibility to keep them accountable to the way we want them to play.
“I would say I’m in the middle between a players’ coach and a coaches’ coach.”
Taking over for Troy Ward, who had been with the Abbotsford Heat and was recently hired with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, Huska understands the situation with the rebuilding Flames.
A huge chunk of their AHL team in 2014-15 will likely be comprised of high draft picks who don’t crack the 2014-15 roster and will need strong professional guidance through their first professional season.
Huska admitted that aspect was intriguing.
“And part of it was how (Flames GM) Brad Treliving painted the picture on what he wanted the organization to be, the family feeling he wants it to have,” he said. “A lot of the things he was saying were very similar to what I came from in Kelowna.
“That was a big reason why I left because, jeez, it felt really good.”
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