American Hockey League

Hard work starting to pay off for Ruzicka

From deep in the pack to a chance at the podium.

He handled the mileage, maneuvered the turns and made a sprint for the finish like Unser at Indy. 

Adam Ruzicka had that kind of surge. 

“The biggest thing you look for in a young prospect is progression,” said assistant general manager Brad Pascall. “How do they progress over the summer; how do they progress over the course of a season?

“In Adam, all you saw was progression. 

“In every possible way.”

Now, he’s in Calgary.

Competing.

Pushing his way forward and turning heads in the process. 

“Adam Ruzicka,” proclaimed the Flames’ interim head coach, Geoff Ward, “looks like a totally different hockey player.”

Last year at this time, he was an OHL graduate – a fourth-round pick with the tools of a first, ready to embark on his professional career. He had the size and the speed, the bulk and the brawn, and a head for the game at both ends of the rink.

But the talent was raw. 

“I definitely had a slow start,” Ruzicka acknowledged. “But I was growing, you know? I’m still a young player and I definitely think I took a big step last year, but I expected that to some (degree), too. Even being here right now, this is a big opportunity for me to take another step forward, develop my game and maybe even earn a spot on the team. Basically, I’ve got to approach every day like that – to work hard and make the most of my opportunities when they’re given.

“But with the way things have gone, I honestly think I’m ready. 

“I feel pretty comfortable with the pace here at camp. Now, it’s all about my work ethic. If I keep working, I’ll get that chance.”

In 54 games with the Flames’ AHL affiliate, the Stockton Heat, last year, Ruzicka had 10 goals and 27 points to finish 10th in team scoring. 

At a glance, the numbers don’t exactly pop off the page. 

But after the first quarter of the campaign, his confidence grew, his role was expanded and there was no looking back.  

In his final 14 games of the AHL season, the motor was humming at full song, with the youngster putting up 12 points (3G, 9A) in that span. 

“I think his confidence took over, and because of all the work he put in throughout the year, it started showing the fruits of that labour,” Pascall said. 

“It’s always difficult, to be quite honest. A lot of these players are coming from junior or college where they were the go-to guy and they have incredibly high expectations of themselves. Which is great. But when you put them together with a group of guys from similar backgrounds, where everybody slots in at the professional level, it isn’t always like that.

“In Adam’s case and others like him that are turning pro, it’s that learning curve of staying with it. A lot it rests on the coaches and the veterans, too, so they’re helping the young players through the transition and helping them learn. 

“Everyone plays a role. 

“But Adam deserves the utmost credit for taking that all to heart, staying with it, and really earning his opportunity here in camp.”

Two weeks from now, the Flames will depart for Edmonton with a maximum roster of 31 players, including the taxi squad.

Simply ‘being there’ isn’t enough for the 6-foot-4, 202-lb. pivot. 

He wants a job. 

Full stop. 

“Every young player has to earn the trust from the coaches, right?” Ruzicka said. “It took some time for me to adjust, but I think I did that in Stockton. 

“Obviously, this is a different level. It’s the NHL. It’s the playoffs. But I also know what I can do and what kind of role I play for this team to help them win.”

Depth at centre is oh-so crucial for any team entering the post-season. With injuries or even the COVID-19 pandemic potentially playing a role over the next few weeks, Ruzicka could factor into the equation that way when the Stanley Cup Qualifiers begin on Aug. 1. 

Or, through sheer will, the 21-year-old could simply force his way on.

He’s used to earning it that way, anyhow. 

“He’s a difference-maker,” Pascall said. “I know that’s a bit of a blanket statement, but in Adam’s case, that really stands for his overall attention to detail in everything he does. 

“He’s living the mantra that every play matters. 

“When you break it all down and ask, ‘What does he do well?’ Well… everything. 

“He’s a big body, left shot, protects the puck, makes plays, wins faceoffs. Down the stretch when he was really producing offensively, a lot of those traits really came to light.

“Now, we’re eager to see what he can do here in camp.”

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