FTOREK ADDS COACHING CHOPS TO YOUNG ROSTER
Like the Flames, the Abbotsford Heat have seen several changes to its core throughout the off-season. The roster is expected to be one of the youngest in its five year history. However, with youth, of course, comes inexperience at the professional level.
Enter Robbie Frorek. As a six-year NHL head coach, four-year NHL assistant coach, 11-year AHL head coach and a six-year OHL head coach, Ftorek's resume is brimming with experience. Now he has joined the Heat to assist in developing the young Flames' prospects.
"We were fortunate to get Robbie. Robbie and I met this summer for a few days in Wisconsin," said the Heat bench boss. "We sat down and we were looking for a little more experience between myself and the management team. It was fortunate that Robbie and I hit it off really well in our days together and he wanted to be a part of this."
Most recently, Ftorek spent six years as the head coach of the OHL's Erie Otters where, according to Ward, he developed an important skill in today's new age of hockey.
"I think he's really used to the young kids. That's probably the most appealing thing for me … One of the most intriguing things is he's spent the last six years in the OHL, so he understands the new millenniums. He understands the new kids. He understands what they're about and he's a good communicator, so the kids are really lucky to have him."
The two-time Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award winner for AHL Coach of the Year has always been known for his pedagogical ways. For Heat centre Brett Olson, it boils down to details.
"He's already been working with us on small details and actually pushing us to figure things out for ourselves a little bit," explained Olson. "Small things with one-timing drills, positioning with our feet in regards to where our stick and the puck is, scoring opportunities, and also body positioning when we're away from the puck and whatnot. So just little tidbits here and there and I'm sure they're just going to be keep flooding in throughout the year.
He's got a great mind for the game and he seems like he can project what he's thinking pretty well and translate it to the players."
NATURAL BORN LEADER
John Ramage has been a leader his whole career. He was captain of Team USA in the Under-20 World Juniors. He was captain for two years with the University of Wisconsin Badgers. His on-ice mannerisms show his leadership and he conducts himself off the ice in the same air.
But to Ramage, it's just the way he is.
"What I've learned over the years is what you show on the ice, what you show every day is what makes you who you are. If that's what you want to a call a leader, then I guess you can characterize it as that."
Heat head coach Troy G. Ward, on the other hand, was not as humble in speaking about Ramage's leadership qualities.
"The one thing I like about him and where he's at within that group back there is he's a young guy that's kind of an older guy, so to speak. Young pro but an older guy. He brings that presence back there.
"You'd like somebody that we identified three years ago in Carter Bancks where everyone thought, 'there's a leader' - the way he carries himself, the way he plays, he's good in the community. I think Ramage is on that same path."
But to the 22-year-old defensive stalwart, it's not about leadership, he's simply happy to be playing hockey. The excitement of getting to play in his first "real regular season game" in a while - his first professional game no less - comes through in his voice.
"I'm really looking forward to this team," said Ramage. "We've got a bunch of young guys on this team that I look forward to gelling with … [There's] not a lot of jobs where you can come into a locker room with 25 or 30 guys and have fun every day, so I feel very fortunate to play this game and I just try to carry that with me in everyday life."
When asked what type of identity he can see his new team having this season, Ramage smiled and summed it up in one sentence:
"We're going to have a lot of fire."
EXCITING SEASON AHEAD
While being a fan of a rebuilding team can be tedious at times, there's no holding back the excitement of watching young players grow and develop. This season, the Abbotsford Heat have a level and quality of roster depth that may be the best in its five-year franchise history.
And while it may be a difficult task as a coach to manage this type of depth, it could prove to be an exciting year for Flames and Heat fans alike.
"We've got a lot of depth this season," explained Ward, "where I think in the last couple of years, our youth has battled other teams' youth and they've had way more talent. We've had some good veterans that have supplemented for the lack of good young talent.
"This will be the first year where it's kind of reversed. We might have a plethora of good young talent to work with, but no vets right now. So it's kind of flip-flopped this year, which is a good thing. Because if you're growing an organization that's in change, you'd like to do it with good young players. We feel good about that."
With veterans such as Ben Walter, Krys Kolanos, Quintin Laing and Danny Taylor finding new homes this offseason, Ward is confident that with a who's who of former captains on his roster, replacing last year's leadership will rest solely on who wants it the most.
"We'll let that emerge over a couple or three weeks … the Bancks' and all these guys, the Hanowski's, anyone like that will have a good chance, a good run for about three or four weeks here to see if they can build through their play, their mannerisms, their on- and off-ice abilities to see who the ultimate leaders are on the team."
Regardless of who suits up each night for the Heat in the coming months, it's sure to be an explosive squad of young talent out to prove they deserve to be in the NHL.
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