When it comes to junior hockey, it’s almost been there, almost done that for Ryan Huska.
With a resume featuring six WHL championships and an astounding seven trips to the Memorial Cup — yes, seven, and, yes, that’s a record — there isn’t much missing from Huska’s list of accomplishments. However, there is one thing missing: World junior experience.
On Monday, Huska took his first step towards filling in that blank, as Hockey Canada interviewed the 34-year-old who has been Kelowna’s head coach for the past three seasons. Who Hockey Canada will choose for its coaching staff won’t likely be known until next week, but reports say the organization is looking for a new head coach plus two assistants and a video coach.
“Hockey Canada and the world junior tournament at Christmas is something everybody in Canada knows about,” said Huska. “When you’re a kid, playing the game, it’s is something you want to be part of. And when you’re a coach, (the thinking) doesn’t change; you’d still like to be a part of it somewhere along the lines. Hopefully, one of these years, I do get an opportunity to do that.”
Hockey Canada, which did not return calls on Wednesday, has a hierarchal system regarding its coaches at the world-junior level. Often, the organization hires two new assistants in one year, then makes one of them the head coach the next year while also hiring one or two new assistants. That said, there have been deviations from time to time, including Brent Sutter guiding Canada to back-to-back gold-medal finishes in 2005-06 and Craig Hartsburg, now head coach of the Everett Silvertips, repeating the gold double in 2007-08.
After both Sutter and Hartsburg, Hockey Canada made sweeping changes. At the 2010 tournament this past December and January in Regina and Saskatoon, Medicine Hat Tigers bench boss Willie Desjardins guided Canada to a silver-medal showing. His assistants were Dave Cameron (Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors, OHL) and Steve Spott (Kitchener Rangers, OHL), and, if Desjardins is indeed not returning, the two have to be considered favourites to take over Canada’s head-coaching reins.
Should Huska get the call, he’ll join a long and growing list of Rockets who’ve either played or been part of the coaching staff for the Canadian national team. Former head coaches Marcel Comeau (1996), Marc Habscheid (2002-03) and Jeff Truitt (2004) have all been part of Canada’s coaching staff.
“When I was first getting into coaching, I helped out by being an on-ice instructor in what was then called the B.C. Best Ever program as ,” said Huska, who joined Kelowna’s coaching staff as an assistant in 2002. “That’s really the extent of the experience I’ve had (outside of the WHL), so I was pretty excited that I was able to get an interview.”
Asked if the interview process included any hard cardio testing as seen as the recent NHL scouting combine in Toronto last weekend, Huska laughed.
“It was just sitting in a room and talking with six guys, some from Hockey Canada and the rest from the CHL,” said Huska, who credited Rockets president Bruce Hamilton to playing a part in why Kelowna has a rich history with the national program. “Guys get opportunities, like this interview I did, and Bruce has a lot to do with it.
“He’s a guy who has a lot of influence around the CHL and when you work for Bruce, he really pushes his people, so he tries to get the best out of you. But he always tries to help you advance along the way, too, and that’s one of the reasons why you’ve seen different guys throughout the years get opportunities, or at least an interview, with Hockey Canada.”
As for players, the list includes Chuck Kobasew (2002), Tomas Slovak (’03), Josh Gorges (’04), Lauris Darzins (Group B, ’04), Shea Weber (’05), Blake Comeau and Alex Edler (’06), Luke Schenn (’08), Jamie Benn, Tyler Myers and Stepan Novotny (’09) plus Brandon McMillan (’10). The list also features athletic therapist Scott Hoyer (’03) and Jeff Thorburn (’09).