Daily News Sports Reporter
It has been a long time since Ryan Huska wasn't wearing the enemy's colours at Interior Savings Centre.
Huska, the head coach of the Kelowna Rockets, is to serve as head coach of Team WHL for tonight's Game 5 of the Subway Super Series. The WHL will play a touring Russian side at 7 o'clock.
Before he came to running things in Kelowna, Huska was on three Memorial Cup-winning teams in Kamloops. From 1991-95, he played 247 games with the Blazers, picking up 162 points.
These days, when Huska walks into the building that was known as Rivershore Coliseum when he played, he's usually an enemy. He's glad to be on the other side of that, if only for a night.
“It's fun,” Huska said. “I think these opportunities are terrific - you get an opportunity to work with some terrific coaches who normally we don't get to spend a lot of time with.”
Huska scouted for the Blazers from 2000-02, before being named an assistant with the Rockets before the 2002-03 season. He served under Marc Habscheid and Jeff Truitt before being given the head-coaching duties prior to 2007-08.
His Rockets won the WHL championship in his first season, and Huska has been named an assistant coach for Canada's entry at the World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y., after Christmas.
“My playing years, I learned the game of hockey from (former head coach) Tom Renney, and Don (Hay) and (former general manager) Bob Brown and everyone else in this organization,” said Huska, who has won four Memorial Cups - the latest with the Rockets in 2004. “I feel like I got a lot of opportunities because of my time here.
“Since I've been working in the coaching side of things, I feel the same way about my time in Kelowna with (president/GM) Bruce Hamilton and the rest of the staff . . .”
Assisting Huska tonight will be Kamloops Blazers head coach Guy Charron and Calgary Hitmen head coach Mike Williamson. Charron won't make the trip to Prince George for Thursday's final game of the series, and former Blazers GM/head coach Dean Clark, now the head coach of the Cougars, will take his spot.
Huska apparently knows a good thing when he sees it - Brendan Ranford and Chase Schaber will remain linemates for tonight's game.
The Blazers forwards, who will be joined by defenceman Austin Madaisky in representing Kamloops on Team WHL, will start the game on a line with Saskatoon Blades' winger Darian Dziurzynski.
“I love it, actually - from what I hear, Darian's a hard-working guy, just like me and Brendan,” said Schaber, who is the Blazers' captain. “I think we'll be a top contender for the hardest-working line in this series and probably the greasiest.”
Schaber, a centre, has made a living out of feeding the puck to Ranford, who leads the WHL with 20 goals, and also would do well to pass to Dziurzynski, who is tied for the Blades' lead with 12 goals.
Seattle Thunderbirds goaltender Calvin Pickard was nothing short of brilliant the last time he played at ISC, but he won't get the chance for a repeat performance tonight.
Pickard stopped 49 shots in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Blazers on Oct. 30, and was the main reason his Thunderbirds even managed a point in the game.
He is scheduled to suit up for both of Team WHL's Super Series games against the Russians, but will back up Everett Silvertips goaltender Kent Simpson tonight and start Thursday.
“It's not disappointing . . . whatever game they need me in is going to be the game I perform in,” said Pickard, an 18-year-old from Winnipeg who leads the WHL with 627 saves. “I'm excited.”
This isn't Pickard's first Super Series - he made 19 saves as Team WHL beat Russia 2-1 in Victoria on Nov. 25, 2009.
Jared Cowen also is a veteran of the Super Series, having played against the Russians each of the last two years.
Cowen, the captain of the Spokane Chiefs, had an assist in last year's 2-1 victory in Victoria. He also helped Team WHL beat the Russians 5-0 in Swift Current on Nov. 26, 2008, and 2-1 in Prince Albert the next night.
“First year, I was the young guy and didn't know what to expect with the Russians or playing with these guys,” said Cowen, who will play tonight, but not in Prince George. “Last year was better . . . but it will be interesting to see what the Russians have.”
Cowen also was a member of the Canadian team that finished second at the World Junior Championship in Saskatoon and Regina.
It was a long Tuesday for Cowen, a 19-year-old defenceman from Allan, Sask., who flew from Spokane to Seattle to Vancouver to Kamloops.
Speaking of long days, the Russians spent most of Tuesday on airplanes and in airports.
Russia lost 2-1 in a shootout to Team OHL in Sudbury on Monday, then hopped a plane from Sudbury to Toronto. From Toronto, the Russians flew into Vancouver, then backtracked to Kamloops on a charter.
The charter also had WHL players on it, and landed in Kamloops around 4:30 p.m. The teams were situated on opposite ends of the plane, with the Sportsnet television crew in between.