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Flames prospect Ruzicka feeling love from home as he logs NHL debut

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Think of this as the proud-parent version of the pre-game nap.

Calgary Flames call-up Adam Ruzicka realized a longtime dream Sunday, logging his NHL debut in a late date against the Canucks in Vancouver.

As the Flames wrapped their morning skate on the West Coast, Ruzicka was still waiting for word from the coaching staff on whether he’d be in the lineup.

Back home in Slovakia, his mother and father — Iveta and Eduard — were also standing by for confirmation, ready to set an early alarm so they wouldn’t miss a minute of the action.

“It’s going to be about three in the morning,” Ruzicka said. “I wish that my parents could be here to watch it, but I think they’re going to watch it back home on TV. If I go in, I know they’re really proud of me and what I’ve accomplished.”

Indeed, Iveta and Eduard must have been beaming in the wee hours of Monday morning.

Their son was a fourth-round selection in the 2017 NHL Draft and has since blossomed into the most intriguing forward prospect in the Flames’ pipeline.

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At 6-foot-4 and 220 lb., Ruzicka has the sort of measurements that scouts drool over.

The 22-year-old centre — he celebrated a birthday just this past week — is also armed with a wicked shot.

With a team-leading 11 goals and 21 points in his 28 outings this winter with the American Hockey League’s Stockton Heat, the second-year pro has already proven he can produce in the minors.

Now, with the Flames auditioning a few of their up-and-comers as they play out the string, Ruzicka has an opportunity to show that he’s ready for primetime.

Darryl Sutter talks often about the importance of being strong up the middle of the ice, so you can bet that he was anxious to see how this built-like-an-ox left-hander would look on the biggest stage.

Ruzicka finished with one shot, one hit and a plus-1 rating in 9:46 of icetime as the Flames frittered away a four-goal lead but ultimately notched a 6-5 overtime victory in this mostly meaningless matchup with the Canucks. The rookie won six of 10 faceoffs and also spent a couple of minutes in the sin-bin after being called for interference in the opening frame.

“It was a great feeling to be out there with the boys,” he said afterward. “First of all, we got the win, which was really positive. And it was a surreal feeling to get the first done, and I hope there is many more to come.”

Calgary Flames forward Adam Ruzicka celebrates a goal scored on Vancouver Canucks goalie Braden Holtby by Josh Leivo at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Sunday, May 16, 2021.
Calgary Flames forward Adam Ruzicka celebrates a goal scored on Vancouver Canucks goalie Braden Holtby by Josh Leivo at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Sunday, May 16, 2021. Photo by Bob Frid /USA TODAY Sports

Ruzicka was just a high-schooler when he left Slovakia to chase his hockey dreams.

He toiled in the Ontario Hockey League with the Sarnia Sting and Sudbury Wolves. (His head coach for that half-season stint in Sudbury was Cory Stillman, and many around the Saddledome will tell you that the former Flames forward was instrumental in teaching this broad-shouldered centre to maximize his size and skill-set on a more consistent basis.)

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In two campaigns with the Flames’ farm team, he has quickly morphed into a go-to guy. Earlier this season, he made Heat franchise history with a string of four consecutive three-point games, although there was a lengthy cold-spell that followed that torrid stretch.

“We’re real proud of him and the strides he has taken, but I think what really excites me is now he gets a chance to see what it’s really all about in a regular-season game in the NHL, and I think that’s a great learning opportunity and growth for him and it gives him a better feel for what he’s trying to aspire to,” said Heat coach Cail MacLean. “It’s going to help him understand how much he has to push himself and continue to grow here.

“Adam is confident in himself, but he can also be hard on himself, as well,” added his minor-league bench boss. “He believes that he’s capable of a lot and at the same time, I think he is also a critic in terms of what he expects from himself each night. So for him, I’d like to think he’s going to be pretty happy to sit back and say, ‘Hey, I’m able to put on an NHL jersey. I’m on the right track.’ I know he wanted more out of the second half of his season with us, and I think this will be a really positive way to end the year and keep him driving forward.”

This is what he’s been driving toward.

On Sunday, this fascinating forward prospect skated into the NHL spotlight — starting with the customary solo lap during pre-game warm-ups — for the first time.

Back in Slovakia, the neighbours might have heard cheering in the middle of the night.

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Ruzicka is an even-keeled sort, but there were hints of emotion when he was asked what the moment would mean to his biggest supporters.

He told reporters via Zoom that he usually calls home after every morning skate or practice to “tell them what’s going on in the hockey world.” They’ve been waiting for this big news.

“It’s tough to describe,” Ruzicka said. “It’s a special feeling for all my family and for all of us here. They’ve put in a lot of work for me and a lot of their time when I was young, and they feel really proud of me. They’ve just helped me through the course of my whole career.”

ICE CHIPS: Luke Philp’s big-league debut will have to wait. The Canmore-raised right-winger was considered a candidate for a late-season look-see, but the Flames announced the 25-year-old sustained an upper-body injury during practice and wouldn’t be available for the remaining few games.

[email protected]

Twitter.com/WesGilbertson

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