When his country calls, Ryan Huska answers.
For the second year in a row, the 36-year-old bench boss for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets will serve as an assistant on the Team Canada staff at the IIHF World Junior Championship.
Huska leaves for Friday morning for Calgary where he’ll work alongside head coach Don Hay and fellow assistants George Burnett (Belleville) and Pascal Vincent (Montreal) in preparation for the WJC Dec. 26 to Jan 5.
Although he’s been down this road before, Huska is no less thrilled to be summoned by Canada’s national junior program a second time.
“I think the same excitement is there,” said Huska, who assisted Dave Cameron at last year’s WJC in Buffalo. “It’s an honour and a privilege to be a part of that team, it’s an opportunity to work with the best players in junior hockey, and to work around an event that people really look forward to every year around Christmas time.”
While Huska’s recollections of last year’s WJC are mostly positive, there was also the abject disappointment he shared with all Canadian players and hockey fans in January 2011 in Buffalo. Canada surrendered a 3-0 third-period lead on the way to a heartbreaking 5-3 loss to Russia in the championship game.
Still, Huska said the only direction to look is forward as Canada tries to win in its first gold medal at the WJC since 2009.
“It’s a totally different team, and we have to look forward to this group of young guys that are coming to camp and face a new challenge…hopefully they can come in and compete and do a great job,” said Huska, who said Canada’s players and coaches are well aware of the expectations and pressure that accompany wearing the Maple Leaf.
“They know the size and magnitude and what it means to a lot of people across our country. They know expectation from Day 1 is gold.
“Our challenge as coaches is that they’re going to face adversity and the big thing is how they come out of that,” Huska continued. “Can we handle giving up a late goal ? Those are the kinds of things we have to be aware of and prepare them for that.”
From his WHL team’s perspective, allowing Huska do leave for the better part of a month is a significant commitment for the Kelowna Rockets.
But according to GM Bruce Hamilton, it’s an arrangement that benefits all parties involved.
Huska is following in the footsteps of former Rockets coaches Marcel Comeau, Marc Habscheid and Jeff Truitt who have all served on the Canadian coaching staff at past WJCs.
“I think they learn from it and become better coaches,” Hamilton said. “The team suffers for the month that they’re away but I think in the big picture here we’re still all about helping these guys to get a chance to move on and I think this will do nothing but enhance Ryan’s opportunities in the future.”
The first order of business for the coaching staff is conducting the final selection camp, Dec. 10 to 14, where 22 players are chosen from a roster of 44 hopefuls.
Among those pushing for a spot is Rockets forward Brett Bulmer.
Rockets athletic therapist Jeff Thorburn is also in Calgary, working as a member of Team Canada’s training staff.
The 2012 WJC begins Boxing Day with Canada taking on Finland.
Huska is due to return to the Rockets Jan. 6 in Victoria.
In his his absence, assistants Dan Lambert and Ryan Cuthbert will be calling the shots from behind the bench.
Rocket Shots…The Rockets open their six-game, nine-day Prairie road trip Friday night in Swift Current against the Broncos…F Colton Heffley and D MacKenzie Johnston are Swift Current natives…The Rockets (12-14-2-1) ended a two-game slide Wednesday with a 5-2 win over Lethbridge…Rookie defenceman Jesse Lees returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing 18 games with a separated shoulder.