The Flames are no strangers to scouring the NCAA for undrafted and undervalued talent that could become big parts of the organization one day.
Spencer Foo of Union College, a native of Edmonton, stole headlines over the early portion of the summer as a player who was going to join the Flames organization after being courted by the club.
For good reason too, Foo was just shy of being a point-per-game player at Union, finishing with 112 points in 113 games at the University.
However, Foo wasn’t the only college free agent signed by the Flames as the club went out and signed defenceman Josh Healey of Ohio State University to a two-year, entry-level contract back on March 25, 2017.
He’d join the Stockton Heat and play two games while on an amateur tryout agreement through the remainder of the season.
“It’s not an easy choice, and it reminded me of when I was picking a school,” Healey said of his decision to join the Flames organization. “You don’t just look at one thing, but you evaluate the big picture. the living situation both in the NHL and AHL, the coaches and opportunity. Brad Treliving, Craig Conroy, Brad Pascall and the Flames management were all unbelievable, reaching out to me, making sure if I had questions they were always available.
“I was really impressed with the way they conducted themselves through the whole free agency process.”
Healey, who completed his studies as a finance major at Ohio State in the spring, was now focused on his hockey career, and it started with summer workouts. An astute observer of others, and a true student of the game both on and off the ice, Healey easily impresses those around him with a laser-like focus on improving mind, body and spirit to propel his career.
Part of Healey’s adjustment from being a student athlete to a professional hockey player relied on getting to know others on the team, developing relationships and learning his place in the organization.
“I was in Calgary all summer working out with the boys, so I got to know some of them over the summer and it helped make me more comfortable,” Healey said. “I think camp was a good experience too, getting to know the program, coaches and upper management while developing personal relationships with them and start the feeling out process of where you stand with them.”
One adjustment Healey won’t be making is how he plays the game, earning himself a reputation as a hard-nosed, hard-hitting, defensive blueliner through his time in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, where he was named the AJHL’s Most Outstanding Defenceman in 2012-13, and throughout his time at Ohio State.
A search of “Josh Healey” on YouTube will result in a comedian by the same name, and a video titled ‘The Next Scott Stevens: Josh Healey – Ohio State Hockey”.
That’s a good summary of what Healey brings to the table.
“Right from pee wee when we started hitting, it was something I liked to do, and I was good at it, so it came natural to me,” Healey explained. “As the years went on, that was kind of my staple and I found that it was a way for me to contribute to the team.”
“If I can play hard and physical and have guys know when I’m on the ice, then I’ve done my job.”
Standing at just six-foot tall and weighing in just over 200 lbs., Healey isn’t an overly big player, but his hits have packed a punch, literally.
“There’s a misconception that if you’re a big hitter you have to be big and strong, but it’s not the case for me and a lot of other guys I know,” Healey said. “Take Ryan Lomberg for example, he throws his body around, fights and he’s one of the smaller guys in the league.”
“I think people look at size, but I disagree I think that it’s just ingrained in you and something you’re born with.”
Fans have seen a few of these jarring hits thrown at Stockton Arena this season as Healey has stayed true to his word about not changing his style that has made him a successful player in the past, and a prospect for a team with a wealth of riches on the blueline.
While Healey is still learning the ins and outs of pro hockey and adjusting to the speed and size of teams in the American League, his observing and inquisitive nature has led him to learn not only from his coaches, but by watching some of the more experienced players on his team go out and play.
“I’ve been around the guys long enough that I take bits and pieces from everyone,” Healey said. “Like when Rasmus Andersson goes back for a puck and use deception to create space, it’s impressive, so I’ve tried to work on that to add to my game. Tyler Wotherspoon, he’ll find a seam breaking out through the middle and I just have no idea how he does that, so there’s definitely take-a-ways from everyone that I’ve been studying from each guy.”
“Everyone’s here for a reason, they’re all good, and so if I can learn from them I will.”
With 16 games into his pro career, Healey’s team has started the season going 12-6-0-2, while the defenceman has been typically paired with veteran blueliner Colby Robak or North American rookie Adam Ollas Mattsson.
And he’s had an opportunity to take some time and develop with head coach Ryan Huska and assistant coach Cail MacLean in Stockton, opportunity that was a big key in his decision to sign with the club in the first place.
Of course, it helped too that he himself is a Western Canadian boy from Edmonton as well, knowing full well that Calgary is not only an amazing city and hockey market with a rabid fan base. It’s somewhere he can grow and prosper, even if his friends may not like it.
“Calgary is awesome, and my family was on board and supportive, but a lot of my friends told me that they could cheer for me, but not for the Flames, which is understandable, Healey said with a laugh and a smile.”
“Hopefully in the years to come they’ll switch sides.”