Flames address power play issues with new assistant coaches

Calgary Flames' Sean Monahan, left, celebrates his goal against the Anaheim Ducks with Johnny Gaudreau. (Larry MacDougal/CP)

One is a power play specialist, the other is intimately familiar with the prospects who have been seeding the Calgary Flames for four years.

They’ve never met before, nor does either have a history with coach Bill Peters.

Nonetheless, Geoff Ward and Ryan Huska were announced Thursday to round out a Calgary Flames coaching staff that includes carry-overs Marty Gelinas, video coach Jamie Pringle and goalie coach Jordan Sigalet.

While it’s rare the general public gets riled up about anyone assisting the head coach, the hiring of these two lads should go over very well.

General manager Brad Treliving’s primary search criteria was for someone who could help turn Calgary’s 28th-ranked power play into something more resembling an NHL unit.

Given cornerstones like Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton, observers were apoplectic last year Dave Cameron couldn’t squeeze more out of the group.

So he’s gone, as is Paul Jerrard and head coach Glen Gulutzan.

In comes Ward, who has ten years of NHL assistant coaching experience, including a recent stint in New Jersey where he not only helped Taylor Hall become a Hart Trophy finalist, but assisted the Devils to top-ten power plays two of those seasons. Two of his seven years as an assistant in Boston saw his club make it to the Stanley Cup final, winning in 2011.

The 56-year-old Waterloo, Ont. native has had a hand in the power play all ten of those years.

“I’ve done the power play every stop along the way in the NHL,” said Ward from his Boston where he watched one of his four children graduate from high school Thursday.

“I think over time I’ve gotten a lot better at it. You’re constantly learning and striving to pick up new things. I’ll take the point, but we’re going to approach this from a team perspective, all of us coaches.”

Admittedly unfamiliar with a Flames team he only sees twice a year, he said it will take time to develop a power play philosophy that best suits his new club.

However, generally speaking, he likes an approach he credits Mike Babcock for introducing in Toronto.

“When he took over he used players on their strong side a lot and got players and pucks to the crease,” said Ward.

“It’s different from what Washington does – they use one-time shooters more. I’m a big believer in taking the game to the goaltender and making him make not only the first save but the second save.”

Ward’s resume includes three separate head coaching stints in Germany, including a DEL title and coach of the year honours in 2014-15. It also includes five years heading up OHL squads.

Treliving needed permission from the Devils to talk to Ward, and had to offer the former AHL coach of the year the associate coach title to hire him away.

“The power play is something we did a deep dive on – we wanted someone who had a lot of success and history with it and his name was at the top of the list,” said Treliving of Ward, who he first met for an impressive interview for the vacant head coaching position Gulutzan filled two years ago.

Unlike the hiring of Peters, which didn’t involve interviews with any other candidates, his search for assistants was an extensive one.

He didn’t need permission to promote Huska, a four-time Memorial Cup winner in Kamloops (three times as a player and once as head coach) who has been a good soldier for the Flames AHL affiliate the last four years.

It was there Huska helped develop youngsters like Mark Jankowski, Garnet Hathaway, Brett Kulak, Rasmus Andersson, Andrew Mangiapane and a host of other frequent call-ups this year who will continue to populate the Flames ranks.

“I think he’s a star in the making,” said Treliving, who hired Huska to oversee his minor league team four years ago.

“I think he’s an excellent coach. He’s a teacher and tremendous person and this is not a hire of convenience.

We think we have one of the very best coaches who are out there. We weren’t the only team interested in Ryan.”

Huska will oversee the defencemen as well as the Flames penalty killing units.

And both will strive to support a coach they hardly knew a month earlier.


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