By Dustin Cowell
As we enter our inaugural season of AHL hockey here in Stockton, we thought it would be a good idea to take a deeper look at the hockey operations staff traveling West from Glens Falls and give the fans an idea of just who will be running the hockey side of things both behind the bench and in the dressing room.
We start our series with, of course, the Head Coach Ryan Huska.
Huska is coming off of his rookie season as an AHL Head Coach, in which he led the Adirondack Flames to a 35-33-8 record. Under Huska, the Flames were the sixth-highest scoring team in the entire league, scoring 3.07 goals per game, and their power play converted at a 19.5-percent clip, good for fourth-best in the AHL.
While some key injuries and a rough final stretch of the season held Adirondack out of postseason play, the young Head Coach is no stranger to playoff hockey as evidenced by his coaching and playing resume in juniors.
Huska has won four Memorial Cups; the award earned by the best major junior team across all three major junior leagues in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL). Those three leagues are the Western Hockey League (WHL), the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).
The Memorial Cup is considered by many to be one of the toughest trophies in all of sports to earn. First, the team goes through a grueling regular season and makes the playoffs within their respective league. Said team then must make it out of their league playoffs as champion to advance to the Memorial Cup. Finally, the winners of each league, along with a host team determined prior to the season, compete in a four team, round-robin tournament to determine the best team in the CHL for that year.
With that said, it’s truly incredible that Huska has hoisted the trophy four times in his career, three times as a player and once as an assistant coach. His three Memorial Cups as a player with the Kamloops Blazers is tied for the most all-time for any one player.
As far as his coaching resume is concerned, Huska comes from an impressive lineage of leaders. Whether it’s coaches that he’s played under or players that he’s played with, the level of leadership that has surrounded Huska throughout his career has undoubtedly shaped his flourishing career as a Head Coach himself.
Don Hay, his coach in Kamloops, has won more Memorial Cups (3) than any other Head Coach in history and is the second-winningest coach in WHL history.
Bob Ferguson, Huska’s Head Coach with the Indianapolis Ice of the former International Hockey League (IHL), coached Huska for three years from 1995-1998. Ferguson has nearly 40 years of hockey operations experience and Huska will see him again soon, seeing as Ferguson is now the General Manager of the AHL’s San Diego Gulls.
Huska has also played with some of the greatest players and leaders in NHL history. Names like Jarome Iginla, Shane Doan and Darryl Sydor among others appear on roster sheets with Huska throughout his junior career in Kamloops.
All of this experience throughout his career has led to Huska getting his shot at the AHL level within the Flames organization.
The Flames hired Huska after he spent seven years as the Head Coach of the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets and an additional five years prior to that as an assistant in Kelowna.
His final year with Kelowna in 2013-14, Huska led the Rockets to a team-record 57 wins and a birth in the WHL playoffs.
During his 12 years on staff with the Kelowna Rockets, Huska coached some of the current greats like Jamie Benn, Shea Weber and three-time Stanley Cup winner and the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the Most Valuable Player in the 2014-15 NHL playoffs Duncan Keith.
With a resume like that, who’s to say the next Benn or Weber or Keith isn’t under Huska’s tutelage right here in Stockton come October.