It’s about 40 minutes after practice has officially ended and Kristian Huselius is still on the ice with a few other Calgary Flames. They are playing a little three-on-three as the Zamboni driver patiently waits to re-surface the ice.
Huselius finally leaves the ice, sweat dripping off his brow.
“I just love the game,” he says when asked why he stays out on the ice so long. “It’s fun to be out there playing three on three. I’ve always done that. I won’t stop doing it because I like being out there. You can always work on things. Even when I was younger I would stay out longer. Sometimes the other team would come out but I would stay out because I wanted to be there. It’s fun.”
Yes, it is safe to say Huselius is having fun. Especially since he recently broke out of a tough goal-scoring slump that lasted 20 games when he scored against St. Louis on March 10. Later in the same game he set up Jarome Iginla
for his franchise record 365th goal, a cross ice feed for a one-timer.
"It's always a god play to across the seam if he is open. It is tough for a goalie to stop that on a one-timer. It was nice to see him get that one. There had been a lot of talk about it," said Huselius. Kristian Huselius video highlights
There had been plenty of talk about Huselius, too. But ee can happily say that his second go-around with head coach Mike Keenan has been a much more pleasant experience.
Huselius and Keenan were together in Florida from 2001 until 2005 when Keenan, then the general manager of the Panthers, traded Huselius to Calgary. When Keenan was named the Flames head coach last summer, seasoned observers predicted the demise of the crafty Swedish forward.
The death of Huselius in Calgary was much exaggerated as the left winger is on tap for yet another career season. And, while his name was rumoured in trades at the trade deadline, he remained a Flame as Calgary stuck with the core of the team and made no deals on deadline day.
Huselius, meanwhile, can turn heads in the stands and twisting opponents into awkward
positions with his nifty moves. Just ask the New York Rangers – he left three of them in his wake before dishing a tap-in pass for a goal to Jarome Iginla
to start the New Year. It just happened to be one of his four points on the night, as he would later score the game-winning goal and keep the Flames rolling along the winning track.
Later in the week he would have a three-point night and be named one of the NHL’s stars of the week.
At the Flames skills competition, he was the star of the day with his breakaway moves.
“He’s a big reason for the team’s success,” notes Iginla.
Iginla and Huselius been together on a line – more or less -- since early December. At the time Huselius was struggling offensively and Iginla went to Keenan to suggest the two be put on the same line to see what would happen. And what happened was an explosion. Huselius struck for 24 points in the next 14 games while Iginla struck for 16 goals and 22 points over the same span.
“I’m a different player than him, obviously,” said Huselius of the power forward Iginla. “I like to handle the puck and make plays. He finds the seams and gets open.”
The move has bolstered the confidence of Huselius, the 29-year-old native of Osterhani, Sweden. Keenan noted that Huselius can be a streaky scorer and, during the recent slump, just needed a goal to regain some confidence.
“He is a player that worked through some confidence issues earlier. He started well, had a little bit of a slump, as most players do,” said Keenan.
Dividing Huselius’s season in months bears out Keenan’s observation. In October he had 12 points in 12 games. In November he had seven points in 14 games. After joining Iginla in December he had 20 points in 14 games. The pair cooled somewhat through January – Huselius had four goals and six assists in 11 games in the first month of 2008.
Then came the drought. There were posts. There were narrow misses. But no red lights going on for Huselius. There was concern but, because the chances were still happening, no panic buttons were pressed.
Huselius isn’t superstitious but, when things are going well, he doesn’t change his routine. “I follow my routine on gamedays. Make your sticks. You know what time you are going to warm-up, you know what time you are going to do up your skates. You wake-up from your nap, have a snack, go to the rink and do the same things,” he said.
Keenan was quick to point out that Huselius has matured as a player since his days in Florida. He is no longer the wide-eyed kid getting a start in the NHL but rather a determined, very skilled player, establishing himself as a consistent performer in the league.
“Some people thought he might not do well under Mike,” said defenceman Anders Eriksson. “But the game has changed since he played in Florida.”
A game with less hooking and holding and more opportunity for a puck wizard like Huselius to perform.
“He is just tremendous with the puck. He is back-checking. Every once in a while he throws a hit. Sometimes you don’t notice him throughout the game but then, at the end, there he is with three points,” said Eriksson.
Huselius agrees the rules now being used by the league help his game.
“There’s a good balance now. There is good flow in the games. If you keep your feet moving it is going to be tough for guys to check you,” said Huselius.
And that last go around with Keenan? Long forgotten.
“It’s a different time. A different team. And a different situation,” said Huselius.
It certainly is all those. And fun, too.