Before leaving for Toronto two weeks ago, Ryan Huska had a hunch both the hype and hoopla surrounding Team Canada would be considerable.
But not until he became immersed in the process of preparing for the IIHF World Junior Championship did the Kelowna Rockets’ head coach feel the full gravity of the situation.
“It’s been everything and more than I expected,” said Huska, an assistant coach with Team Canada. “Hockey Canada does such an amazing job of organizing things, from taking care of the players and the staff…it’s pretty much like an NHL team.
“You see it everyday in the media coverage just how big this is for Canada,” he added. “Everybody knows and feels the pressure and excitement of this event. It’s amazing to be part of it all.”
Huska and the Canadian team arrived in Buffalo on Christmas Eve in advance of the start of the 2011 edition of the WJC. Team Canada will open the tournament on Boxing Day against the Russians.
The 35-year-old Huska is one of three assistants on the Team Canada coaching staff which is headed up by Dave Cameron of the OHL’s Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors.
From as far back as the summer evaluation camp in St. John’s, Huska said the process of choosing, shaping and preparing the Canadian team for the world junior has been fascinating and educational.
Among his duties as an assistant is looking after Canada’s penalty killing unit.
“It’s been a terrific experience for me,” he said. “There were some interesting decisions and meetings we had about which guys we were going to keep, what kind of a team we were going to have going forward. Dave (Cameron) wanted guys who play the same style, a four-line, lunch bucket kind of crew and that’s what we’ve ended up with. We’ve had a few of those in my time in Kelowna, so it’s certainly familiar to me.”
On the subject of Kelowna, Huska hasn’t had a whole lot of spare time to think about his WHL team back home.
Besides, with assistants Ryan Cuthbert and Dan Lambert in charge during his absence, Huska said there’s been little reason for him to dwell on fortunes of the Rockets.
“To be honest, I’ve really made an effort to separate the two and not worry too much about what’s going on back home,” said Huska, whose Rockets went 3-2 on their pre-Christmas road trip to Alberta. “I wasn’t concerned at all because I knew the coaches would do a great job and they really have. It’s been nice to be able leave the team in really capable hands.”
As for spending Christmas in Buffalo instead of with his young family back in Kelowna, Huska said it will be difficult but it’s a sacrifice he and his wife, Denise, were willing to make.
“For an opportunity like this, yes we will make an exception this one time,” said Huska, who has three children aged seven, six, and five months. “That’s why Skype is so good. I get to see them and talk to them every day. I think that’s the fortunate part about technology today. You can be a long way away but still see your kids.”