Unusual circumstances an opportunity for young players wanting to crack the NHL

CALGARY — An extraordinary time in the NHL is opening doors for some professional hockey players.

Adam Ruzicka was among 35 players summoned by the Calgary Flames to participate in the resumption of the 2019-20 season. The 21-year-old Slovak has yet to play an NHL game. He spent his first season as a pro with Calgary’s American Hockey League affiliate in Stockton, Calif.

Flames general manager Brad Treliving and head coach Geoff Ward have both referenced the young forward as a player who can seize an opportunity in unusual circumstances. Calgary’s fourth-round pick in 2017 is getting reps with NHL players that many are not because of the league’s cap on training camp numbers.

“I was surprised I was included among those guys, so I was really happy to get invited to camp and battle for a spot,” Ruzicka told The Canadian Press.

The former Ontario Hockey Leaguer with the Sarnia Sting and Sudbury Wolves is competing to extend the experience.

Calgary will take 31 players to Edmonton later this month. After an exhibition game July 28 against the Edmonton Oilers, the Flames open the best-of-five play-in round Aug. 1 against the Winnipeg Jets.

“It’s a huge step for me,” Ruzicka said. “I’m trying to work hard for that spot. It’ll mean a lot. I can see the guys play and hopefully get in the lineup.

“For me, it’s really beneficial in every way. There’s no negative points for me going there. Everything that would happen would be really great for me.”

The NHL season paused March 12 for four months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lengthy hiatus meant a second training camp was needed to complete the season in the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto.

Teams will ice 20-man rosters with extra manpower on hand in the hubs in case of illness or injury.

“If you’re not one of the 20, you’ve got a responsibility to make the 20 ready to play,” Treliving said. “So if you’re, pick a name, if you’re Adam Ruzicka, I think it’s a great opportunity for him.

“He’s earned it. If he’s one of the 20 good for him. If he’s not, he’s here to make the 20 ready and that’s a big responsibility.”

The Flames had two pre-season games remaining last September when the six-foot-four, 220-pound centre was assigned to Stockton from his first training camp.

Ruzicka tallied 10 goals and 17 assists in 54 games with the Heat.

“Adam Ruzicka with a year of pro under his belt looks like a totally different hockey player,” Ward said.

Ruzicka says he was in the middle of dinner at home in Slovakia last month when Flames assistant general manager Brad Pascall called and told him to pack his bags.

Ruzicka’s 14-day quarantine in a Calgary hotel finished the day before Flames training camp opened Monday.

While training camp 2.0 is primarily about preparation, Ward still wants players competing for jobs, ice time and special-teams roles as they would normally at training camp.

“We need to put the best 20 guys on the ice,” the coach said. “The goal of every guy here is to be one of the 20.

“We’re not telling the players that weren’t on our team at the end of the year to defer to anybody. They’re here to try to make an impression.”

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