When Ryan Huska signed on with the Kelowna Rockets in the fall of 2002, he wasn’t precisely sure where his coaching career would lead.
A dozen years and 303 Western Hockey League victories later, the 38-year-old Huska is headed for the pro ranks.
Huska is bound for Glen Falls, N.Y., where he’ll serve as head coach of the Adirondack Flames, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Calgary Flames.
Huska, who spent the last seven years as the Rockets’ head man, will be replaced by behind the Kelowna bench by his assistant for the last five seasons, Dan Lambert.
On Monday at Prospera Place, GM Bruce Hamilton choked back tears during an emotional farewell to Huska and his family.
Still, Hamilton heartily celebrated the moment—for Huska, for his successor and for the organization.
“It’s a real good day, because one of our coaches is moving on and that’s what major junior hockey is all about,” said Hamilton, who referred to Huska as a great coach, but an ‘even better person.’
“Having Ryan move up is a feather in our hat, and to move Danny right into this role is exactly what we planned on when we hired him. I’m looking forward to watching him mature into what Ryan did.”
Under Huska’s guidance, the Rockets won the WHL championship in 2009 made a trip to the Memorial Cup that spring in Rimouski.
In each of the last two seasons, Huska’s club set records for regular season victories, including 57 wins in 2013-14.
It seemed only a matter of time before Huska would attract the right offer, and that came last week from the management team of the NHL’s Calgary Flames.
“I felt really good about the meetings I had (with the Flames) and told my wife, Denise, when I got home that I hoped things would work out,” Huska said. “What they stand for just feels right…it’s a great opportunity that I’m looking forward to.”
As much success as the team enjoyed on the ice during his tenure, Huska said the people is what he’ll remember most fondly from his time with the Rockets.
“If you don’t have good people who aren’t passionate about what they do, then you don’t get to have individual success,” said Huska, who won a Memorial Cup as an assistant with the Rockets in 2004. “Reflecting back, we’re proud of the records we’ve had and the banners we’ve had, but I’m going to be remembering the team, and all the people that allowed us to get to that point, and allowed me the opportunity to move on. That’s what’s really special about this organization.”
For Lambert’s part, the ex-WHL star was grateful to have worked alongside Huska since 2009 and is excited for the challenges of his new job.
“We spent a lot of time together over the last five years and it is sad to see him go but there’s no doubt Ryan was ready to move on,” said Lambert. “Him being successful has allowed me to grow as a young coach and now to get this opportunity, I’m very grateful to the Hamilton family and that they trust in me that I can follow in Ryan’s footsteps.”
The Rockets’ search for a new assistant coach is currently under way.
Lambert will conduct his first training camp as head coach of the Rockets during the final week of August.