Ruzicka red-hot as former Wolves imports make marks in AHL

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The aptly named Stockton Heat, and Adam Ruzicka in particular, could not be much hotter at the moment.

The former Sudbury Wolves forward scored a goal and added a pair of assists on Wednesday night, giving him three points in each of his last three games with the Calgary Flames’ American Hockey League affiliate, all of them victories.

The 21-year-old native of Bratislava, Slovakia, who was a key addition for the Pack at the 2019 OHL trade deadline, now has five goals and four assists in five games to start his second AHL season.

“I feel a lot better,” said the 6-foot-4, 205-pound centreman, during a post-game press conference after his two-goal, one-assist outing on Feb. 24. “I have a lot of games under my belt now and I feel more confident. I try to play simple and try to make a step every day.”

A fourth-round pick of the Flames in 2017, Ruzicka said the time spent at Calgary’s camp last summer, before the Flames entered the Stanley Cup playoff bubble in Edmonton, was an important step in his development as a professional.

“It was a good experience and it gave me a confidence-booster,” said Ruzicka, who lines up on most nights between Connor Zary, the Flames’ first-round selection in 2020, and Matthew Phillips, a sixth-round pick in 2016.

The Heat, normally based out of Stockton, Calif., are playing out of the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary this season, as part of a realigned Canadian Division, giving Flames brass plenty of opportunities to watch their up-and-comers.

“The way I look at it is I can be a top guy here and do my best every day,” Ruzicka told media last week. “Hopefully, I’ll get a callup some time in the near future and take that chance.”

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A second-round pick of the Sarnia Sting in the 2016 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft, Ruzicka spent two and a half seasons in southwestern Ontario being dealt to the Wolves in January 2019 for a trio of draft picks. The skilled Slovak eventually scored 24 goals — including four in a single evening — and recorded 17 assists in only 30 regular-season games, before adding a team-high 10 points in eight post-season contests.

He signed an entry-level contract with Calgary in April of that year.

“The trade was one of the best things that could have happened for me,” Ruzicka told The Sudbury Star at the time. “As soon as I came here, the coaches and everybody gave me the opportunity to play and in the end, to be rewarded is really nice. I’m very grateful for it.”

Sudbury’s other import for that 2019 stretch drive, goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, has also made his mark this AHL season. The Buffalo Sabres prospect made 31 saves to backstop the Rochester Americans to a 4-2 win over Utica on Wednesday, rebounding nicely from a pair of defeats and raising his save percentage to .892 over six games.

The 21-year-old from Espoo, Finland, started the season in his homeland, posting a .908 save percentage in 13 games with TPS of Liiga.

This is the 6-foot-4, 195-pounder’s second year as a pro. Following double hip surgery at the end of his OHL career, he split the 2019-20 campaign between Rochester and Cincinnati of the ECHL.

In just one season of major junior hockey, Luukkonen became one of the most decorated players in Wolves history, winning the Red Tilson Award as the OHL’s most outstanding player, as well as goaltender of the year. He also led Finland to a gold medal at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Another of Sudbury’s recent imports, winger Matej Pekar, has seen seven games of action in the AHL this year, also with Rochester.

Pekar, who turned 21 in February, started the season in the Czech Republic, collecting four points in 13 games with Bili Tygri Liberec in the country’s top men’s league, as well as nine points in nine contests with HC Benatky nad Jizerou in the Czech second division.

Like Ruzicka, Pekar was a trade-deadline pickup in 2019-20, eventually amassing 34 points in 25 games with the Wolves.

bleeson@postmedia.com

Twitter: @ben_leeson

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