After many weeks of searching, the Calgary Flames are reportedly close to completing their coaching staff. Per a report by our pal Pat Steinberg of Sportsnet 960 The Fan and this site (and a tweet by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman), the Flames are closing in on hiring Geoff Ward and Ryan Huska as assistant coaches under new head coach Bill Peters. Ward is expected to run the power play and manage the forwards, while Huska will run the penalty kill and manage the defensemen.
Update: the hirings now official, per the club. Ward’s title is “associate coach.”
Along with Stockton’s Ryan Huska, Geoff Ward has emerged as a solid candidate to be an assistant coach in Calgary.
Ward has been a New Jersey assistant the last three years and has been in charge of their powerplay. #Flames
— Pat Steinberg (@Fan960Steinberg) May 30, 2018
If you thought the Flames needed to do something about their power play, the 56-year-old Ward is an encouraging hire. While the Waterloo, Ontario product doesn’t have a pro game as a player, he’s coached literally everywhere since he was 27 years old and is a self-professed “career coach.” He’s spent time in junior (the OHL), college (the University of Waterloo), the ECHL, the AHL, two levels of German pro hockey, the German national team, and the NHL. He’s spent 18 seasons behind the bench at various levels of pro hockey, including a full decade as an NHL assistant coach split between New Jersey and Boston – he ran the power play for both clubs and has his name on the Stanley Cup from Boston’s 2011 win. If his name rings a bell, he was considered a contender for the Flames’ head coaching vacancy back in 2016.
Among others, CBS New York’s Steve Lichtenstein praised Ward’s work with the Devils’ power play:
A tweak that Ward and Hynes made to the power play formation has helped put the Devils in better position to both minimize the number of 50/50 puck battles and to win more of them.
New Jersey is still basically using a 1-3-1 set-up, but it is no longer running the plays from a half-wall. The power play often looked stagnant, with the puckholder waiting to find a passing lane to a teammate for a one-timer. If pressured, the Devil at the half-wall would be forced to wrap the puck around the boards, creating another battle. Rinse and repeat until the defense gathered the puck and iced it.
The Devils’ power play has been much more free-flowing of late. The plays are now starting from the blue line, with a defenseman in the middle of the ice. On the first unit, for example, Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri are on Andy Greene’s flanks higher up along the blue line.
If you’re a subscriber, the Athletic’s Tyler Dellow took a look at some power plays earlier this season and observed that the Devils were one of the groups that had success with having left-shot players work the left side (and right-side players the right) with the idea being that you lose the one-timer speed, but you force the goaltender to adjust to both going side-to-side but dealing with a shooter that could also go high or low.
Huska’s a familiar face to Flames fans, having coached the farm team for the last four seasons – first in Adirondack, then three seasons in Stockton. He’s best known in the hockey world for running the WHL’s defenseman factory with the Kelowna Rockets, producing such NHL defenders as Madison Bowey, Tyson Barrie, Luke Schenn and Tyler Myers. His work with the Flames’ young defensive prospects on the farm has also been pretty good, with Brett Kulak becoming a full-time NHLer just a few seasons removed from spending time in the ECHL, and players like Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington knocking on the door.
He also has fairly recent playing experience for such an experienced coach – he won three Memorial Cups, including two as a teammate of Jarome Iginla – and his status as an up-and-comer may also be part of the appeal for the Flames. He’s a progressive-minded, positive, energetic coach who can relate to today’s young players. Considering that the Flames have spent a few seasons grooming him on the farm, the promotion may be as much about asset management as it is about improving the Flames. If you base his performance on how he’s prepared Flames prospects to be NHL players, he’s definitely deserving of this new challenge.
We’re still awaiting an official announcement from the club on the hirings, but we’ll have more on these hirings as it becomes available. No word as of yet who will replace Huska behind the Heat bench, but keep an eye on Stockton assistant coach Cail MacLean.