Huska’s Hockey Career Comes Full Circle

The Heat bench boss’ experience as a player has aided him throughout his coaching career

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

Western Hockey League President Ed Chynoweth awards the President’s Cup to Jarrett Deuling while Darcy Tucker, Ryan Huska (second from right) and Scott Ferguson celebrate

And, yes, for a fleeting moment, at any rate, the joy.

Ryan Huska understands it all. He’s lived it all.

Scroll back to Jan. 5th, 1998. The United Centre on Chicago’s south side.

After three years of faithful toil in Indianapolis, a 22-year-old centreman’s first big-league break.

His only big-league break.

“I was hoping,” muses the Stockton Heat’s recently re-signed head coach, “it was going to be one of those depending-on-how-you-do-it-could-be-a-week-or-two things because Brent Sutter had a groin injury that was not responding.

“But of course, the way the Sutters are, he could barely skate around the ice the day after the one game I did play, walked back into the room and said: ‘I’m good.’

“Back to Indianapolis.”

Stats show the 6-2, 194-pound, left-handed-shooting centreman – the Hawks’ third-round selection in the ’93 entry draft – logging eight shifts and 5:55.

That’d be No. 56 in your program. But don’t dare blink, or you’ll miss him.

The opposition? In a nice twist of fate, his current employer – the Calgary Flames.

Nearly two decades later, Huska describes the time-capsule one-off, which ended a 1-1 tie, as “an out-of-body experience.” He recalls being so keyed up that he left himself open to a massive hit from Flames’ defenceman Jamie Allison early on.

Coach Huska pictured in his younger days as a Kamloops Blazer

“Playing against Jarome Iginla, a teammate of mine (in Kamloops), was pretty cool.

“The first two periods I took a few face-offs in different zones, which I was pretty excited about. My linemates were Jim Cummins, who’s now a scout for the Flames, and Kevin Miller.

“But once we got into the third period …

“You know, I was just very appreciative that Bob Murray, the GM of the Blackhawks at the time, gave me the chance to have that one game.

“I’d been the organization quite a while, the captain of the team in Indianapolis. And Bob Murray’d been around the whole time. I really believe that game was kind of a ‘Thank you for what you’ve done for our group in the IHL.’

“At times you wonder: ‘Gee, if I could’ve had one or two more games, maybe I could’ve done a bit more, stayed a bit longer …’ but at the end of the day I was pretty thankful to have had that one game.”

What a 309-to-1/NHL-to minor-league pro playing career has done is offer Huska a unique perspective into the hearts and minds of those he now grooms – the Mark Jankowskis and Ryan Lombergs and Ramus Anderssons – to maybe propel a first NHL start into 100, then, hopefully, 1,000.

Huska during the Flames' 2016 training camp

Huska during the Flames’ 2016 training camp

Huska during the Flames’ 2016 training camp Rob McMorris

That’s his job, and his reward.

“Absolutely, I feel that connection. When you’re young, one of the hardest things – and I found this even after the year I stopped playing – is seeing some of the names of some of the transactions who are being called up. When you believe you’re in that category, too, and never got the same opportunity they did, it’s hard to wrap your head around.

“Being a career minor leaguer, I totally understand what these guys feel in certain situations, the challenges they face, even when teammates get the call. It’s a real interesting dynamic in the AHL. These guys are best of friends but at the same time competing for jobs at the next level. We all want to achieve our dreams.

“So as much as you’re happy for a teammate, you’re also thinking: ‘I’ve got find a way to do something a little bit better so I can be that guy next time.’

“When you step back and you’re out of it, you can maybe realize you weren’t quite good enough to be that player pushing for that job.

“But when you’re caught up in it, no player sees things that way. And rightfully so. They need that to drive them forward.”

Along, naturally, with capable mentoring.

“Our top priority here is development. I’m not saying we don’t have to win games but there’s a little more rope, a little more leeway, when we get into some tougher stretches if the players are showing improvement.”

The Heat embark on their third season in California riding a crest of momentum. A monumental late-season push staked them to a playoff spot before extending the Pacific Division-winning San Jose Barracuda to the limit, five games.

“I think we made a dent into building, into developing, a bit of a culture,” says Huska. “Now we’re not just a team that competes. We expect more.”

So re-upping with the Flames’ organization was welcomed by both parties.

“I’m very fortunate to work with a great group of people who make our staff here feel we contribute to the success up top.

Coach Huska is entering his fourth year as a pro head coach after seven years as a Head Coach for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets (PHOTO BY ROB MCMORRIS)

“Brad Pascall, who I talk to daily, has been tremendous. And they trust you. When you’re an employee, in any job, that’s what you want.

“Players would say the same.

“If you feel valued, if you feel you matter, you’ll work harder.

“That’s the culture created by Brad Treliving.”

Not that the sparkle of the NHL doesn’t at times bewitch, beguile, beckon.

No different than years ago at the United Center for a 22-year-old, 6-2, 194-pound, left-handed-shooting pivot aiming to break into the big-leagues.

“Just like players here, it’s our goal at some point to hopefully get a chance to work in the NHL, whether that be as an assistant or a head coach.

“I think every year you’re able to be a head coach at this level, you learn so much more. Not only about yourself but about the game.

“So I don’t necessarily think there’s this huge rush. I love where I am, what I’m doing and who I’m doing it for.

“But at some point, I’d like that chance.”

Hathaway Ready to Push for Full-Time Work in Calgary

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

Last year, through sheer force of will, Garnet Hathaway managed to force it even further ajar.

This October, the aim is to throw that door wide open. Off its hinges, if need be.

In typically truculent style.

“That,” says the Rock-‘Em Sock-‘Em right winger, “is a good analogy. This is the year I really want to take a stride further and make the team full-time.”

Since signing with the Calgary Flames as an undrafted free agent, Hathaway has gone from zero NHL starts his first season pro to 14 and then to 24 in 2016-2017.

A freshly-minted one-year, two-way contract in place, Hathaway is in Providence, R.I., at present, close to his old digs at Brown University and a short hop from Foxboro, Mass., where he’s working out, prepping for the opening of the Flames’ training camp alongside a queue of NHLers such as Brian Boyle, Keith Yandle, Charlie Coyle, Kevin Hayes and Kyle Palmieri, to name but a few.

“A very competitive environment,” he reports. “A great place to train for the summer.”

With the aim, naturally, to being a regular NHLer, a Day One-r, to get off that AHL/NHL elevator at the top floor and put down big-league roots.

In his longer stint at the top level last year he didn’t disappoint, scoring his first NHL goal, against the Detroit Red Wings at The Joe, never compromising on all-in/all-out effort as well as displaying a willingness to rub the right folks the wrong way.

“I guess you could say there was a sense of accomplishment last year … but more encouragement, really,” hedges Hathaway. “It’s a lot different than the AHL, the minor leagues, and it was exciting for me. I gained a lot of confidence.

“I mean, it’s the best league in the world. To play with those guys and not seem out of place, to know you have the calibre to play there, is huge.

“I think the biggest jump I made was maybe mentally. For a lot of professional hockey players, you have to find the belief that you can make it, show the willingness to go out there and do it, but once you get the mind-set, see that you can do it first-hand, you’ve got to hold onto that.”

He’s certainly paid his dues in the minors. His intrinsic qualities are reflected in the ‘A’ stitched on the side of his jersey since the franchise top minor-league affiliate team relocated from Adirondack to California’s San Joaquin County.

“That means a lot,” says Hathaway. “To have quite a few younger guys there looking up to me in a role like that. I wouldn’t consider myself the most talkative person ever but to be seen as leader is a special feeling. I just hope I showed them I was worthy of that letter.”

Seeing as how they’re stylistically similar, the off-season departure of Lance Bouma would seem to seamlessly have opened up a spot on the Flames’ fourth line.

Hathaway, characteristically, doesn’t see things quite that way.

This is someone, be sure, who’ll never take anything for granted.

“It’s probably the same in all jobs, all careers: There’s always somebody out there working just as hard as you,” he says. “Someone who sees that opportunity, as well. As much as we want to believe the door’s opening for us, I’m fighting a lot of other guys for that chance.

“When you count the numbers, look at all the guys … every year is different. In this business, things change quickly.

“But on my side, I’m not going to stop working.

“The way you enter camp is by taking it day-by-day. Pretty standard but it’s still true. You can’t worry about: ‘What’s the roster going to be tomorrow?’ or ‘What’s the line-up going to be next game?’ With that mentality, you’re going to stick to your game plan and know your role.

“I know that as hard as it is to get (to the NHL), it’s going to be harder to stay.

“And that’s next on my to-do list.”

Heat Announce Half-Season Heat365 Memberships

Stockton, Calif. – The Stockton Heat, proud AHL affiliate of the NHL’s Calgary Flames, announced today that Half-Season Heat365 Memberships are on sale now!

Starting at $330, Half-Season Memberships include 20 regular season Stockton Heat Hockey games and many of the same benefits that come with the Full Season Membership, including the ability to exchange tickets, nightly merchandise discounts, tickets to the Heat preseason game on Friday, September 29, access to exclusive, member-only events and much more.

“We’ve been encouraged by the response to our full season H365 Membership program in its first selling season”, Heat CEO Brian Petrovek said.  “The member-only summer events like the Stockton Ports game, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and, coming up in just a few short weeks, a Shades of Color social painting experience have engaged members throughout the offseason. The Half-Season Membership offers another option for avid fans with less disposable time without sacrificing all the benefits and value of a full season Heat365 Membership, so we’re excited to be able to grow this exclusive family during its inaugural season.”

A Full-Season Heat365 Membership not only gives you tickets to all 34 Heat home games this season and the benefits and value listed above, but also includes benefits not available to Half-Season Members, like exclusive Heat365 gifts, early access to Stockton Arena through the Bud Light Cold Zone, tickets to the first round of the playoffs, and more.

Learn more about Heat365 Full and Half-Season Memberships by calling the Heat Front Office at 209.373.1500 or by visiting stocktonheat.com/compare.  Fans can also attend the Heat’s Open House on Saturday, August 5 from Noon to 3:00 p.m.  In addition to test driving seats for the upcoming season, fans can enjoy broomball, tour the Heat locker room, take advantage of official Heat merchandise discounts and every fan in attendance will receive a free ticket to the Heat preseason game on Friday, September 29 starting at 7:00 p.m.

You can find more information about the Heat’s Open House at stocktonheat.com/openhouse.

STOCKTON HEAT HOCKEY. GET FIRED UP

Stockton Heat Announce 2017-18 Hockey Operations Staff

Stockton, Calif. – The Stockton Heat, proud AHL affiliate of the NHL’s Calgary Flames, announced today the 2017-18 Hockey Operations staff including the contract extension of Heat Head Coach Ryan Huska, the return of Assistant Coach Domenic Pittis, Goaltending Coach Colin Zulianello, Head Equipment Manager Peter Bureaux along with Strength & Conditioning Coach Alan Selby and the additions of Assistant Coach Cail MacLean, Head Athletic Trainer James Borrelli, Video Analyst and Team Services Kohl Schultz and Assistant Equipment Manager Mitch MacLeod.

Heat Head Coach Ryan Huska returns for his third season in Stockton and fourth in the Calgary Flames organization having compiled a 101-90-21 record and coming off his most successful year at the helm where the Heat went 34-25-9 and made it to Game 5 of the Pacific Division Semifinals against the Pacific Division winning San Jose Barracuda.

Pittis returns for his third season and Zulianello is set to begin his second season with the Heat. Bureaux will be entering his third season with the Heat and seventh season in the Flames organization.  Selby heads into his second year in Stockton.

MacLean, who replaces Todd Gill after he accepted the Head Coaching job with the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack,  joins the Heat after two seasons as the Head Coach of the Adirondack Thunder of the ECHL, guiding the club to two-straight playoff appearances and a 79-48-17 record.  In total, MacLean has posted a 157-96-35 record as a head coach at the ECHL level with Adirondack and the South Carolina Stingrays, having made the playoffs in his four seasons at the helm.

This is MacLean’s second go-around with the Calgary Flames AHL affiliate having served as an assistant coach with the Abbotsford Heat from 2011 to 2013. MacLean had an 11-year pro hockey career spanning from 1997 through 2008, playing 747 games in the AHL, ECHL and the former International Hockey League.

Borrelli arrives in Stockton after serving as the North Bay Battalion’s (Ontario Hockey League) Head Athletic Therapist and Equipment Manager since 2013.  A graduate of the University of Guelph and Sheridan College, Borrelli had two stints with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL and spent two seasons with the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts and has worked a number of tournaments with Hockey Canada.

Schultz begins his career in pro hockey after serving as the Director of Hockey Operations for Bemidji State University and as the Video Coordinator and Director of Community Engagement with the University of Maine men’s hockey program.  His main tasks with the Heat will be to assist the coaching staff with video analysis along with serving as the team’s travel coordinator.

MacLeod returns to Stockton having previously been a Hockey Operations Intern with the Stockton Thunder in 2014-15.  Since then, MacLeod has worked in Slovenia with Hockey Without Borders and as an Assistant Coach and Equipment Manager with the Odessa Jackalopes of the North American Hockey League.

The third season of Heat hockey begins on Friday, October 6 at 7:00 p.m. as the Heat host the Bakersfield Condors and follow that up with a rematch of the Pacific Division Semifinals, hosting the San Jose Barracuda on Saturday, October 7 at 6:00 p.m.

Fans can learn about ticket options for the 2017-18 season by attending the Heat’s Open House on Saturday, August 5 from Noon to 3:00 p.m.  In addition to test driving seats for the upcoming season, fans can enjoy broomball, tour the Heat locker room, take advantage of official Heat merchandise discounts and every fan in attendance will receive a free ticket to the Heat preseason game on Friday, September 29 at 7:00 p.m.

Learn more about the Open House at stocktonheat.com/openhouse or by calling the Heat Front Office at 209.373.1500.

Top Goalies Return to the Flames Organization

Announced recently, the Flames have resigned last year’s goalie tandem in Stockton to contracts for the upcoming season, uniting one of the best 🇺🇸 and 🇨🇿 goalies Stockton has ever seen!

Both Jon Gillies and David Rittich are back in the mix, and while they’ll both hope to push Mike Smith (🇨🇦) and Eddie Lack (🇸🇪) for playing time in Calgary, the pair could find themselves tending the net for the Heat in 2017-18.

Drafted in 2012, Gillies has long been considered one of the top up and coming goalie prospects in all of the NHL, proving it in 2015-16 as he earned his first pro win and first pro shutout in the first ever game for the Stockton Heat, where the club beat the Rockford IceHogs 7-0.

Another shutout win later, Gillies unfortunately found himself aggravating an existing hip injury during Hot Pink 1 and was shutdown for the rest of his rookie season.

He returned to the Heat in 2016-17 and picked up right where he left off, going 18-14-1 with a .910 save-percentage and a 2.93 goals-against-average and played his heart out during the second and third periods of the eventual overtime losing effort in Game 5 against the Barracuda.

Meanwhile, Rittich, who was plucked from relative obscurity, playing two seasons for Mlada Boleslav BK of the Czech Extraliga (top Czech League) and would come in to make an immediate impact.

Going 15-11-1, Rittich kept the Heat in many games during his first season and had some of the best numbers in all of the AHL to prove it, finishing with a .924 save-percentage and a 2.27 goals-against-average, finishing eighth among AHL goalies in those categories.

He also set a new Heat record for most shutouts in a single season with five, which was also tied for the second most among AHL goalies in 2016-17.  Rittich is now the Heat all-time leader in shutouts, surpassing Kevin Poulin and Gillies during the season.

Both goalies would make their NHL debuts for the Flames as well last season, with Gillies starting for the Flames in a game against the Los Angeles Kings, allowing one goal on 28 shots and earning his first NHL win.  Rittich would come in for the Flames final period in the regular season against the San Jose Sharks stopping nine of 10 shots.

Should they be both be back tending the Stockton net in 2017-18, Heat coaches and fans alike will feel pretty comfortable with both goalies tending the net!

Summer of Heat365 Events

Heat365 Members Eugene and Alexzandre Salon attended the Heat365 Event at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and looked like they had an excellent time!

It’s been a busy summer for Heat365 Members.

Most recently, fans enjoyed half-off entry into Six Flags Discovery Kingdom just for being Members.  Those who took part got to enjoy some of the best thrill rides in Northern California, like the all-new Wonder Woman Lasso of Truth ride!

Take Eugene and Alexzandre Salon for instance, who snapped this pic in-between rollercoasters and bumper cars!

However, the Six Flags event hasn’t been the only event or special perk that Heat365 Members have enjoyed this summer.

In June as part of our Renewal Sweepstakes, over 500 prizes were given out to renewed Members and Mini Plan Holders, but our top prize, a trip to San Diego to see the Heat take on the San Diego Gulls, was won by Heat365 Member Debbie Kester!

The month was also highlighted by a Heat Night at the Stockton Ports game against the Modesto Nuts, where the Ports were not only victorious, but also shot off fireworks to end the night!  A number of Heat365 Members were in attendance during the contest, including our first Members of the Month, the Wingerd Family!

Don’t forget our fun event to kick off our special Heat365 Membership Program on the Sierra Dinner Train back in late May, when Heat365 Members rode the train and sipped some of the best wine Northern California has to offer.

Our #Heat365 members are ready for a train ride!

A post shared by Heat365 (@ahlheat365) on

There’s lots more to look forward to this year for Heat365 Members in addition to these fun events, like exclusive items, perks and access.  If you aren’t a Heat365 Member and want to learn more about how you can join the fun, visit stocktonheat.com/heat365 or call 209.373.1500!

Heat to Host Open House on August 5

Stockton, Calif. – The Stockton Heat, proud AHL affiliate of the NHL’s Calgary Flames, will host an Open House on August 5, 2017, inviting fans to Stockton Arena from Noon to 3:00 p.m. to look at available seats for the 2017-18 season, enjoy discounts at the Stockton Fan Attic and fun activities for the entire family.

Heat ticket staff will be available to show available seats and discuss options available for you, your friends and family or your group to enjoy a Heat game this season.  Information will be available for Heat365 Memberships, Mini Plans, Flex Packages and Premium Seating options along with a chance to book your group night on the spot!  Plus, every person in attendance will receive a free ticket for the Heat’s Preseason game on Friday, September 29 at 7:00 p.m. against the Bakersfield Condors.

There will also be a number of fun activities for the entire family, including photo opportunities, Arena and locker room tours and a chance to play broom ball where the Heat typically skate.  The Stockton Fan Attic will also be open during the event with discounts on replica jerseys, hoodies, short and long-sleeved t-shirts, performance apparel, hats and more!

Fans who have unrenewed Memberships or Mini Plans can renew by calling their ticket rep and placing a deposit to maintain possession of your seats from the 2016-17 season.  All Memberships and Mini Plans that have not been renewed by July 31 will be released and available for purchase through the Front Office and the Open House event.

The 2017-18 schedule has been announced, which is a perfect time to purchase your Mini Plan, sponsored by Dick’s Sporting Goods, Rita’s Italian Ice and Frozen Custard and Zoom Carwash. To customize a Stockton Heat Hockey ticket plan to fit your schedule, needs and budget, call 209.373.1500 and speak with a Heat Ticket Executive today or visit stocktonheat.com to learn more.

STOCKTON HEAT HOCKEY. GET FIRED UP

Giordano Named Sports Humanitarian of the Year

 by TORIE PETERSON @ToriePeterson / CalgaryFlames.com

The award recognizes an athlete “whose continuous, demonstrated leadership has created a positive impact on their community through sports.”

As the winner, the Flames captain will direct a $100,000 grant from ESPN to his charity, Team Giordano.

“It was really special, right from the start – watching the video of Muhammad Ali and then being able to win the award at the end of the night, I’m truly honoured,” Giordano told CalgaryFlames.com.

“It’s a pretty emotional night, pretty surreal for me right now.”

Prior to receiving the award, Giordano was introduced to the crowd with a video highlighting the work Team Giordano has done in Calgary.

Founded in 2014, the Team Giordano program has developed relationships with four high-needs schools in the city and provided much-needed resources to each institution. In total, the program has distributed $300,000 to the schools, impacting the lives of 1,900 students. Mark and Lauren Giordano also make regular visits to the schools, talking to the students about fitness, leadership, academic success, and goal-setting.

Following the summary of Giordano’s work, ESPN reviewed the Ali’s charitable contributions and how he impacted society with his work.

“Being forever linked to a man like this is something I’m going to cherish and really carry on and spend some time explaining to my children when they get older,” he said.

Being around so many like-minded individuals over the past couple of days has been inspirational for Giordano and has fuelled his desire to help more people in his community.

“There’s so many great people in the room tonight … it’s such a great event, I’ve never been a part of anything like it, to be honest.

“Tonight was another eye-opener – so many great people that you grow up idolizing and watching in the room with us tonight and you see the work they do in their communities.”

The Flames organization is thrilled to see Giordano recognized on such a grand stage, showing the sports industry how committed their captain is to his community.

“He is so deserving,” general manager Brad Treliving told CalgaryFlames.com. “And he doesn’t do any of this for applause. He doesn’t do it because he has to. He does it because he wants to.

“He doesn’t do this for recognition or awards or any of that but you’re always happy for a person who commits like he does to be recognized.

“We are fortunate to have Gio and his wife, Lauren, as a part of community.”

Giordano’s charitable work has also been recognized by the NHL. Last year, he won the NHL Foundation Award and this year, he was named a finalist for the Mark Messier Leadership Award.

“The biggest thing you see is the time and effort he puts in with his foundation, with charity events and the stuff he just takes on himself without anyone asking,” head coach Glen Gulutzan told CalgaryFlames.com. “And he does it without seeking any credit or notoriety … he just wants to give back.”