Lost in the shuffle during the free agency frenzy over the last couple days was the hiring of Troy Ward to coach Calgary’s AHL affilliate in Abbotsford next season. It’s a promotion for Ward, who was an assistant on Jim Playfair’s Heat staff last season, but a hiring that is a smart one for the Flames. From talking to Ward a few times over the last year, it’s clear he has a good eye on his team and is very keen on getting player to the next level.
"He was very, very popular with the players there this past season, and we feel very good about having him in there," said Flames GM Jay Feaster. "It’s a shot in the arm for the kids, they’re pumped up." And it’s no question he’s a coach that players want to play for in talking to Heat players last season. In the interview process, players suggested they’d "go through a wall" for Ward, and having that type of coach behind the bench is a very valuable thing.
As for Ward himself, he’s looking forward to the opportunity, a chance he’s been waiting for for a number of years. "I’ve had the tennis shoes on for four years, so I’m used to running around for somebody else and trying to help them become head coaches and help them in front of the team," Ward told me on Thursday. "It’s going to be fun and exciting to put on a pair of dress shoes and go to work."
Two things were very encouraging to me when talking to Ward. The first was delving into his philosophy when running a team, and the adjustment he might need to make in being promoted from an assistant. "Troy Ward is going to be Troy Ward, just as I was as an assistant coach," Ward suggested. "I consider myself a communicator and a guy who gets along with people very well and it’s about managing people. Obviously there’s some pressures that go along with some of the people I have to manage relative to their expectations or the organziations expectations for them to grow, but they’re still people and you deal with them politely and fairly and honestly, and you give them some love, and at the same time you’ve gotta give them a little push and get them a little bit quicker at things at that stage in their development."
The second very encouraging facet with Ward is how he learned from Jim Playfair in his one year tuturoing under the former Flames Head Coach. "Jim was instrumental in things for me on the defensive side of the game as he tends to look at it that way, while I look at it more offensively," Ward said when asked about learning from Playfair. "Not to say that one’s better than the other, it’s just a different ways of looking at things, so I learned a lot. A lot of times when you’ve got a lot of experience you learn different languages, and his terminology helped me become a better coach by the way he looks at things."
Those are the things that encourage me about Ward, and you’d imagine they are things the Flames also took into consideration when making their decision. "We wanted to have him challenged," revealed Feaster when asked about the hiring process. "We had three finalists…we were pleased with the quality of the candidates, but in the end it was clear that Troy was at the top of that group."
The Heat had a lot of trouble scoring last season, and Ward believes a year under a lot of the returning players will naturally help with that aspect of their game. He pinpoints Lance Bouma and Greg Nemisz as important players needing breakthrough sophomore seasons and said the same about T.J. Brodie, Chris Breen and Joe Piskula on the point. He’s also expecting steps forward for Bryan Cameron and Ryan Howse, as Ward’s job is now to elevate AHL players to the next level. It’s a challenge he’s looking forward to.
"There are a group of young players down there that I think are going to come," said Ward. "We’re going to have to be patient at times and sometimes we’re going to have to accelerate that process." The entire interview with Ward is below.
Ward will be in town starting Monday for Calgary’s annual development camp, something FlamesNation will have plenty of coverage on, including exclusive interviews and scouting reports. It all takes place at Don Hartman Arena in the northeast.