The new Calgary Flames aren’t too different from the old Calgary Flames. But the subtle differences are ones that general manager Craig Conroy believed were most important while searching for his new head coach.
He looked far and wide but landed on the guy his gut told him was the right man for the job, maybe from the start. It’s been known for a few days that Ryan Huska would promote from the assistant coach position he’s held for five years to replace the fired Darryl Sutter as top dog behind the Flames bench. On Monday, it was officially announced, and the atmospheric overhaul continued with a Conroy and Huska panel producing plenty of laughs, honesty, authenticity, and belief that the team will turn things around quickly.
“As we narrowed the search down it became more and more clear to me that Ryan and I had the same vision,” Conroy told the media.
“The importance of what I was looking for in a coach — a communicator, a leader, one that could inspire the group, play sound defensive hockey with structure, and (on) the offensive side, I want our guys to be creative and take it to the next level. You want to have them have that free reign and do what they do best.”
Huska made his case for Calgary Flames head coach with an intricately crafted powerpoint presentation. It addressed everything Conroy wanted to see without asking for.
“We did a lot of things well last year,” Huska said. “There are certain categories or certain areas that we have to do a better job of and one of them is the types of chances against that we would give up. So there’s going to tweaks to how we defend. And when I mention managing the puck, we’ll put priority on making sure we’re putting each other in a good position.
“I think by making some of those subtle changes to what we want to do, it’s going to make the chances that we give up maybe lesser quality, and make the shots our goaltenders are going to see more predictable.”
Those changes won’t affect the consistent efforts of a franchise that still considers itself rooted in effort. Yes, the new GM and his new coach want to score more goals, but the structure and the work is still the key for the Calgary Flames identity.
After four years as head coach of the Flames affiliates in the AHL in Adirondack and Stockton, and five more in the NHL on the bench as an assistant to three other head coaches in Calgary, Huska now has a chance to bring his version of the Flames to life.
“This team is going to play hard for each other. This team is going to do things the right way — the Flames way,” Huska said. “When I think of the Flames way, it’s a very hard-working team. It’s one that competes consistently and plays a smart brand of hockey. We’re going to talk a lot about thinking the game faster and playing quick with our transition, and the importance of making sure we understand the value of the puck. We’re going to spend a lot of time working with our players on that.
“I’m a big believer in that group of people and their ability. My job now as the head coach is to make sure I push them every day to get the best version of them. Also to try to push them to another level both as individuals and as a team. I’m going to do that by making sure I keep working on my relationships with them. I know them, but that can always be strengthened. And they have to know what’s expected of them.
“Then it’s my job to put them in positions to succeed and excel.”