Flames’ Ruzicka making most of fresh start under Huska

Winnipeg Jets forward David Gustafsson, left, skates past as Calgary Flames Matthew Coronato, centre right, celebrates his goal with teammates Adam Ruzicka, centre left, and defenceman MacKenzie Weegar during third period NHL preseason hockey action in Calgary, Alta., Monday, Oct. 2, 2023. (Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

CALGARY – As part of the minor renovations made to the Calgary Flames’ dressing room, the player photos above each stall were replaced by the three words new coach Ryan Huska wants emphasized:

Character. Commitment. Consistency.

The third word just so happens to be a quick glance to the left of Adam Ruzicka’s stall.

As if he needed more reminding.

Even before the six-foot-four, 215-pound Slovak became a fourth-round draft pick of the Flames in 2017, the book on the burly Bratislava native has been riddled with questions about his ability to stay engaged on a regular basis.

Here’s his chance to erase all that.

The organization has made it clear from the opening of camp he’ll be given ample opportunity to prove his 24-game stint in which he had 20 points last year is something he’s capable of duplicating … with regularity.

While most armchair GMs penciled him in as the Flames’ fourth-line centre this season, Huska opened camp with Ruzicka riding shotgun on the second line with Nazem Kadri and Matt Coronato.

The plan is for him to stay on such a lofty perch for a considerable amount of time – the duration of which will be determined by his give-a-crap meter.

The trio opened the pre-season with a combined 10 points in a 10-0 win over Vancouver, with Ruzicka getting three assists.

Blanked the next two games, he was back at it again Monday against Winnipeg when he took a Coronato pass in the slot, held off a defender draped all over his back and calmly steered a backhand past Connor Hellebuyck for his first goal of the silly season.

“That’s the kind of goal a big man like that is capable of,” said Huska following his team’s 5-4 win over the Jets.

“Guys like Adam have to be firm in terms of, ‘you’re not taking the puck from him.’

“That’s when he’s at his best, when he holds on to it and protects it and finds open men or goes to the net himself, where he is willing to throw a defenceman on his back.”

Asked if he was seeing what he needs to see from the 24-year-old so far in camp, Huska was cautious.

“Getting there,” said the coach.

“There are still inconsistencies. I think for Rosie, you can see some moments with the plays that he can make on a power play coming down when he’s protecting a puck down low. He is a big man and we’re all salivating for big men to have skills.

“We’re really driving Rosie to be consistent and take a lot of pride in being consistent because he’s got a skillset not a lot of guys have.

“The mantra for Rosie could be, ‘consistency is cool.’”

That’s four points in four games for Ruzicka, mirroring the type of productivity he generated before Christmas last season when paired with Elias Lindholm and Tyler Toffoli at times, and Mikael Backlund and Blake Coleman at others.

Perfectly illustrating the boom or bust nature of his game last year is the fact he didn’t register a single point before or after his 24-game scoring binge.

Asked what he thought led to a second half of the season that featured plenty of healthy scratches and limited fourth-line use, he shrugged.

“To be honest with you, that’s something I still haven’t figured out,” he said.

“I don’t care that much anymore because it’s behind me and I don’t have to focus on that anymore.

“I played two games, and no points, and that was it I have no clue, and the communication wasn’t there like it is this year.”

This year the messaging has been, um, consistent.

“He’s going to get the opportunity and he needs to go out and grab it,” said Huska.

“He needs to move his feet hard all the time, and once he gets pucks he needs to hold on to them and make good plays.

Ruzicka is determined to prove he’s worthy of top-six billing.     

“I’ve shown that I’m capable of playing on the top lines — I did that 20 games and that’s pretty good to show I’m consistent,” said Ruzicka, who played 44 NHL games last year to up his career total to 75.

“I spoke briefly about it with Husk when I got here and he gave me the message that he wanted me to be more consistent with it and that I’d get a chance to play on a top line.

“The communication and overall positivity is something I didn’t know from last year and it’s really good and positive for me to know what I’m capable of, and they see it as well.”

In spurts.


Coronato continued his solid pre-season with two assists and the game-winner Monday in a come-from-behind victory over the Jets.

The Flames also got goals from Dillon Dube, Backlund, Lindholm and Ruzicka.

Flames fans were asked to pay tribute to assistant GM Chris Snow before the game by turning on the flashlights on the cell phones for a moment of silence. Snow passed away at age 42 due to complications of ALS on Saturday.

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