There are changes to teams every year, and this off-season has been a big one for the Flames' AHL affiliate. A move from the relatively isolated Abbotsford out east to Glens Falls was key among them, but there's another impactful move to be had: Ryan Huska will be the first head coach of the Adirondack Flames.
After three seasons of adequate, but not outstanding - two years in the playoffs, one series victory - coaching from Tory Ward, the Flames organization decided to move on. Ward spent one season as one of the Abbotsford Heat's assistant coaches before taking over behind the bench, but never saw true success (to be fair to him, it's not like he had a stable of high-quality players to work with - the Flames are only fixing that just now - but still).
Huska comes from the WHL's Kelowna Rockets, where he has been head coach the past seven seasons. Prior to that, he was an assistant coach with the Rockets for five years. Basically, all the professional coaching Huska has ever known has been in Kelowna.
This past season, however, was one of his best. The 38-year-old led the Rockets to the WHL's best record, 57-11-0-4 over 72 games, and 118 points - five points better than the perennial WHL finalist Portland Winterhawks. That's a ridiculous .819 winning percentage, with his team scoring 310 goals - second only to the Winterhawks - and only letting in 182 against, third best in the league, and not that far off. The Rockets fell to the Winterhawks in the WHL Western Conference final 4-1.
Huska was with the Rockets when they won the Memorial Cup in 2004, and led them to a WHL Championship in 2009. The Rockets were the best team of the 2009 Memorial Cup round robin, but fell 4-1 to the Windsor Spitfires in the final game.
It's a good shift, and follows in suit with the Flames getting younger on all levels. Huska's Rockets have made the WHL playoffs every year he's been head coach, and from all accounts, he deserves the chance to move up to the next level. Ward's teams weren't accomplishing much - and in the case of last year at least, were heavily relying on Joni Ortio (they pulled a Minnesota Wild the year before as well, with obscene save percentages before it all fell apart and they regressed so hard they missed the playoffs).
Thanks to ExtraSkater's new CHL stats, we can look at the top ES GF% players in the WHL. There are a number of Rockets among them, including 10 among the top 50 - second only to the WHL and Memorial Cup Champion Oil Kings, who had 11 of the top 50. This may not mean much at all, but it certainly isn't a bad sign.
By all indications, Huska knows how to coach, at least at the junior level. Many of the Flames' top prospects are very recent junior grads, so Huska should be able to work well with them. And he's young. If he performs well enough, he could be auditioning for a Flames head coaching job in the future.