The professional relationship that began more than a decade ago between Ryan Huska and the Kelowna Rockets is far from over.
The Western Hockey League club this week signed the 38-year-old head coach to a three-year contract extension, potentially keeping Huska on board through to the end of the 2016-17 season.
“We’re thrilled to have Ryan signed long-term,” said Rockets president and GM Bruce Hamilton. “We understand and we encourage his goals to move along and advance his career. This ensures that he’s going to be in Kelowna as long as he’s coaching in the WHL.”
Huska, who joined the Rockets in 2002-03 as an assistant coach, insists there is no better situation at this stage of his career than the one that exists in Kelowna.
“I feel like this is a wonderful place to work, to work with the people that we have here is second to none,” said Huska. “I think the WHL, and our team in particular, is a great place to learn and improve as a coach. Even after this long, you learn something every night. There is no better organization in junior hockey or family (Hamilton) to work for.”
After spending six seasons as an assistant coach and helping the Rockets to a Memorial Cup title in 2004, Huska took over the head coaching duties for the 2007-08 season.
Success was quick to follow as he guided Kelowna to the WHL title in 2009 and a berth in the Memorial Cup championship in Rimouski.
The Rockets haven’t posted a losing record or missed the playoffs during Huska’s six-year tenure, compiling on overall regular season mark of 246-153-33.
In 2012-13 under Huska, the club established a club record with 52 regular season victories en route to the B.C. Division title.
In addition to a positive working environment, Huska pointed to the club’s depth, talent and future potential as another key factor in his decision to add time to his contract.
“You look at our group and we’re excited about this year and the next few years down the road, too,” he said. “We all want to win here and we feel like we’ve built our way up to a position where we can take a run at a championship or two. It’s an exciting time to be involved with this team.”
Based both on his experience and past record of success, Huska is already a strong candidate to make the jump to the professional ranks.
And while that goal remains on the table over the long-term, Huska is more than content to focus on his major junior career, at least for the foreseeable future.
“We do this job to try and make our way to the NHL, just like the players do. Having said that, you can always learn a lot and improve in the CHL and the WHL,” said Huska, a father of three. “My family also loves it here, so that was a factor, too.”
In Huska, Bruce Hamilton said the Rockets are getting not only a strong coach, but a positive influence for the entire organization.
“What Ryan brings is more than just coaching,” said Hamilton. “He’s a quality person and he has surrounded himself with a quality coaching staff that are working their way to being in position to move up as coaches.”
Huska and the Rockets continue training camp this week at Prospera Place with practices Thursday and Friday.
Kelowna will open up the WHL exhibition season this weekend, hosting the Kamloops Blazers on Friday night and playing in Vancouver on Saturday.
The Rockets home opener is Sept. 21.