After an October start became December, then January and ultimately February, Adam Ruzicka had no doubt gotten sick of waiting for his second professional season to start.
So when his skates hit the ice and the puck was dropped at the Scotiabank Saddledome last season for the Stockton Heat's season-away-from-home, the Slovakian centre looked like he was shot out of a cannon.
Among the impressive start-of-season feats, Ruzicka set a Heat record with four consecutive three-point outings, an achievement unmatched in the Flames' farm system since at least the 2004-05 season. He teamed up with Connor Zary to his left and Matthew Phillips to his right to form a fearsome line, setting the pace and dominating opposition over the course of a team-record, eight-game win streak.
Talk about making up for lost time.
"Last year was great," said Ruzicka. "I was way more comfortable from the start. The first year was dipping my toes in the beginning, but the second season I was able to play my game more. The confidence was there for sure, but it came from the summer and the work I put in over the offseason."
At the AHL level, it was a steady build for Ruzicka from his debut to where he finished the 2020-21 campaign. He had 27 points in 54 games in his rookie season, a solid outing on the surface but more impressive when you take a peek under the hood. In his first season, cut short by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ruzicka finished with a flurry - finding his way onto the score sheet in 11 of the last 14 games to set the tone for his breakout sophomore season.
It was then about flexing in year two, with improved physicality after adding strength to an already large frame during the offseason to become dangerous night-in and night-out. The 6-foot-4 centreman paced the Heat with 21 points, topped the roster with 11 goals, and was second on the club with 15 points at even strength.
"I didn't change anything, just had some things to work on over the summer to get better," said Ruzicka. "This summer, there's always room to improve. I want to add speed and power, quickness. I want to make sure I come into camp ready to compete."
If year one to year two was any indication of leaps that can be made, look out for year three. Ruzicka earned an audition with the big club down the stretch, notching his first NHL point on May 18 against Vancouver. In three games, he finished a plus-2.
Now he has some experience under his belt, knows what to expect from life at the highest level of hockey. Just like his introduction to the AHL, perhaps his brief run in the Flaming C was just him dipping his toe in.
"I thought I was going to do a little worse than I did (in the NHL) and was kind of surprised," said Ruzicka with his trademark tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. "Other than that, there was nothing really surprising in those three games. I was glad to play how I did. Nothing took my breath away, it was pretty much what I expected. I was worried about it all year but was ready for it when I made the jump."
Heading into the offseason and looking ahead to next year, the work doesn't stop. He's back to his same summer routine, pushing himself on the ice training with players he grew up with, some of whom are prospects for other organizations, some now in the KHL, and a NHL face in Tomas Tatar.
The hard work now leads to spoils are earned later. After a tough season last year with empty buildings and a NHL debut without the typical fanfare, he's excitedly envisions a return to normalcy as he reaches his lifelong dream.
"Don't even get me started," he said. "I hope the fans are going to be back. We play for the fans. We love to entertain. It's going to be great getting back to normal and it'll be different after a year without a full crowd and everything that comes with it. It's going to be exciting."
Ruzicka knows how far he's come and how close he is to his ultimate goal. His confidence has never been higher, thanks to a strong season on the farm and his first look in the show.
"I just have to come ready (to camp) as best as I ever was, be consistent in every drill, every rep, every game that we play.
"You get those three games at the end of last season, that boosts your confidence. I'm way more confident now than I was before last year. I'm ready for it."