Photo credit:courtesy Stockton Heat
A brief history of the Calgary Flames’ recent AHL head coaches
By Ryan Pike7 months ago
The Calgary Flames have one last outstanding bit of business to conduct this off-season: hiring a new bench boss for their American Hockey League affiliate, the Calgary Wranglers. Following development camp, general manager Craig Conroy indicated a hiring is close – hopefully “within the next week or so.”
When you look back at the AHL head coaches the Flames have had dating back to the reinstatement of their farm team in 2005, coaching that team has become a bit of a stepping stone to NHL jobs for most of their coaches.
At the time coming off a three-year run as head coach of the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack, and previously a head coach with the WHL’s Kootenay Ice, McGill was the Flames’ AHL coach for four seasons: 2005-07 in Omaha and 2007-09 in Quad City. He was promoted to the NHL staff in 2009 and spent two seasons as an assistant coach under Brent Sutter. He’s remained in the NHL mix ever since, serving as an assistant in Vegas and New Jersey most recently.
During his AHL run, McGill helped get Mark Giordano, David Moss and Brandon Prust to the NHL.
Man, Playfair had a bit of a weird run with the Flames organization. He was hired to coach the Saint John Flames in 2000, and led them to a Calder Cup in their first season. He was promoted to the NHL staff midway through the 2002-23 season, and was briefly linked to succeed Greg Gilbert as head coach before talks reportedly fell through. He was promoted to assistant on the NHL staff under Darryl Sutter, though, and succeeded him as head coach in 2006.
He lasted a season, was demoted to associate coach in 2007-08 and served for two seasons under Mike Keenan. After Keenan was dismissed in 2009, Playfair returned to the AHL bench, where he coached the Abbotsford Heat for two seasons (2009-11) before joining the Phoenix Coyotes staff. (He was with the Coyotes for six seasons and joined Edmonton’s staff for another three.)
During his run with Abbotsford, he worked with Mikael Backlund and TJ Brodie as they worked their way to the big club.
The only recent AHL coach that didn’t parlay his Flames organization stint into an NHL coaching gig, Ward joined the Heat as an assistant under Playfair and was promoted to the big job when Playfair left for Phoenix in 2011. (He’d previously coached at a ton of different levels, including being an assistant in the NHL, AHL and IHL, and a head coach in the ECHL and NCAA.)
Ward coached the Heat for three seasons (2011-14), and the Heat didn’t have a ton of success nor were there any significant graduations to the NHL during that span. After leaving the Flames, Ward continued to pop up in coaching, managerial and scouting gigs throughout hockey, including in the USHL, NCAA, Europe and a three-year stint as an amateur scout with the Vancouver Canucks.
Recruited from the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets, Huska spent four seasons coaching the Flames’ top affiliates between 2014-18: first the Adirondack Flames, then the relocated Stockton Heat. The Heat didn’t have a lot of standings or playoff success, but Huska worked with a lot of young players that made their ways to the NHL during his tenure including Brett Kulak, Garnet Hathaway, Micheal Ferland, Markus Granlund, Oliver Kylington, Mark Jankowski, David Rittich, Andrew Mangiapane and Rasmus Andersson.
Huska was promoted to the NHL coaching staff in 2018 as an assistant, and was named the new Flames head coach earlier this summer.
An assistant under Ward way back when, MacLean was recruited from the ECHL to be an assistant under Huska and then got promoted to the top job when Huska went up to Calgary from 2018-21. MacLean continued a lot of what Huska was doing: developing NHL players, but not having a ton of post-season success. (That wasn’t the mandate.) Among the individuals that worked their way to the NHL under MacLean include Ryan Lomberg, Dillon Dube, Juuso Valimaki and Adam Ruzicka.
MacLean was promoted to the NHL staff in 2021, following Huska’s pattern.
Arguably the best Flames’ minor league coach in recent memory in terms of combining standings and developmental success, Love coached the Heat in 2021-22 and the relocated Calgary Wranglers in 2022-23. He led the Flames’ farm clubs to division crowns in each season and was named the AHL’s top coach in each of those seasons. Among those that made their way to the NHL under Love’s guidance include Connor Mackey, Walker Duehr and Jakob Pelletier.
Love was hired away by the Washington Capitals this off-season, joining their staff as an assistant coach.
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