Rasmus Andersson was thrilled with the Calgary Flames coaching hire.
His name came up on Monday as an example of the influence new Flames head coach Ryan Huska has had on the franchise. How he communicates openly and honestly, how he holds players accountable, but also lets them know exactly what’s expected of them.
There was no guesswork for Andersson when he joined the Stockton Heat in 2016 after a couple of dominant seasons with the Barrie Colts in the OHL.
“Without that first year in Stockton, I’d probably be still lazy and still a little bit fat,” Andersson told Pat Steinberg on Sportsnet 960 radio on Tuesday, while giving Huska a glowing review as both a head coach in the minors and as an assistant in the NHL.
Huska was Stockton’s head coach when the talented but raw defenceman graduated to the AHL.
He wasn’t in the best shape. He didn’t have the professional mindset. But Huska could see the potential.
“Looking back at it, I’m really happy I had that year. Husk was on me every day. Every single day. I was not in my best shape, I needed to get better and I needed to lose a few pounds. I was a little bit lazy coming from juniors and that kind of stuff. Husk was on me from the first day to the last day in Stockton. That’s what I needed at that time,” Andersson said of a rookie year with the Heat that saw him score three and finish with 22 points in 54 games. That came after two nearly point-per-game years in major junior.
“Sure, at times I hated him. He probably hated me, too. But that’s how you grow. I went home, I did the work that summer and came back in better shape and a better player. The next year there were no issues at all. All he tried to do was help me get to that next step.”
The next step for Andersson was a nine-goal, 39-point campaign in 56 games with the Heat. He also got called up to the Calgary Flames and received a call from Huska telling him to be prepared because the coach believed Andersson was going to be playing.
He suited up for 10 games in the NHL that year, and both Huska and Andersson made the leap full-time to the NHL the next season with Huska joining as an assistant coach.
“I think I lost 15 pounds that (first) year. We never really had that conversation again. It was more let’s get you to that next level and let’s help each other out,” said Andersson, whose longtime blueline partner Noah Hanifin is a hot trade topic at the moment.
“He really gives you that confidence to play, but at the same time he holds you accountable to play a certain way.”
Andersson says Huska is a hard worker. A listener. A teacher. He’s great with video and positive reinforcement and wants to know and understand what the players think and see out on the ice as well.
He’s organized and leaves the players with no doubt about what they’re supposed to do in any given situation.
Sounds ideal for a Calgary Flames franchise that was struggling to share a vision from the top — then GM Brad Treliving — through former head coach Darryl Sutter and into the locker-room.
Andersson says he doesn’t expect any struggle to transition back to head coach for Huska even though it’s his first such post in the NHL. Andersson and longtime teammate Andrew Mangiapane used to joke about a “switch” in Huska’s eyes that would take him from head coach to assistant mode, or vice versa.
“He’s very demanding of you when he’s head coach. He can’t really be that demanding as assistant coach because it’s the head coach that makes the system,” Andersson shared.
“That’s key in it, though. Even though he’s demanding, he still gives you the confidence to make plays, go on the rush, see the play, make the play, trust yourself, hang onto the puck … he has both sides of the coin.”