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GOOD OLD DAYS

Current Flames assistant coach Ryan Huska tells stories from his time playing with Iginla in Kamloops

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

Scrolling back a quarter-century, Ryan Huska confesses he hadn't an inkling.

"At that time," says the Flames' assistant coach, of his time playing alongside Jarome Iginla, "back when you're playing together, you really didn't fully understand just how good he could be.

"But there were moments.

"I remember when he was traded for Joe Nieuwendyk. That was one of times where you were like: 'Holy crap! To be traded for an elite player in the NHL and he isn't even there yet? Maybe this guy is that good!'"

Yes, turns out he was.

Huska and Iginla spent two junior seasons together at the then-Riverside Coliseum in Kamloops, '93-94 and '94-95.

Together, they helped the Blazers claim back-to-back Memorial Cup titles.

Iginla arrived in Kamloops as a 16-year-old forward brimming with raw potential when Huska was an 18-year-old proven commodity, entering his third WHL season.

The then Jarome, Huska recalls, was pretty much the now Jarome.

"He was someone who was comfortable and wanted to be around anyone and everyone. He didn't have to hang out with the so-called 'old' guys on the team.

"Just a genuine, genuine person.

"And the neat thing is that he's carried that all the way along. He's never changed. That's why he has so many people who care about him and stay in touch with him.

"A fantastic human being. And he now has a fantastic family, too.

"On the ice, what stood out then and always will for me is that he was a guy who, when something needed to be done, went out and did it.

"Whether that was beating out an icing call or getting into a fight or scoring a big goal. He was always the guy you could count on."

The luxury of having two future NHL franchise icons, Iginla here and Shane Doan in Winnipeg/Arizona, on the same junior team certainly propelled each one forward.

"Jarome and Shane,'' says Huska, "were so good for each other at a young age because they were very competitive with each other, in a good, playful, brother-type manner.

"That made for some interesting times on the bus, some interesting times in our dressing room, and a lot of great laughs.

"Whatever it was, they wouldn't allow the other guy to one-up. Whether it was carrying hockey bags after a practice to the bus - who could carry the most bags at one time? - in everything and anything the two of them were competing with each other, which probably helped them out at a young age in regards to being pushed.

"They were both elite guys at the junior level and I'm sure having each other around at the same time was really good for their development.

"I really do think they fed off each other. Which is why it's so fitting that both of them have their jerseys retired the same week."

The paths of Huska and Iginla would, naturally, diverge, the one shifting sideways into the coaching end of the game and the other into superstar playing status both in the NHL and international arenas.

Kind of fitting, though, that Huska will be in the Scotiabank Saddledome, looking on from an ice-level perch, Saturday when his long-ago teammate receives the highest individual accolade that any franchise can bestow, the retiring of his jersey.

"For what he meant to this organization, I think it's a real cool honour.

"And very deserved.

"He and his family should be very proud."

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