During their two seasons as linemates with the Western Hockey League’s Chilliwack Bruins, Ryan Howse and Roman Horak shared an explosive chemistry, but it wasn’t necessarily rocket science.
At least, that’s the way Horak makes it sound.
“It’s easy to play with him – I just pass it to him, and he scores,” said Horak, a 20-year-old centre from the Czech Republic who arrived in Chilliwack in the fall of 2009.
“Even the first few games after I came to Canada, it was easy to play with him. I don’t know why, but we just kind of clicked.”
That simple equation – Horak passing, Howse shooting – added up to big numbers for the Bruins the past two seasons. Between them, they accounted for nearly one-third of Chilliwack’s goals over that period.
The duo are hoping to continue their collaboration this fall with the Abbotsford Heat. Both 1991-born players are eligible to turn pro in the Calgary Flames’ minor league system for the first time.
Howse was selected by the Flames in the third round of the 2009 NHL entry draft, and Horak, originally drafted by the New York Rangers, joined him in the Calgary prospects queue via trade this past June.
Howse was positively giddy when he found out his Bruins running mate was joining the Flames.
“I was actually in Calgary at the time, and I remember it perfectly,” he said with a wide grin. “I got a call from my dad – he found out first, before anyone, I don’t know how. He told me Roman got traded (to the Flames), and I thought he was kidding.
“And then a couple minutes later Jay (Feaster, Flames GM) called me and said they’d gotten Roman. That was pretty neat.
“Playing pretty much every shift with him the last two years was pretty special. Hopefully we can continue on with that and write a new chapter in Abbotsford.”
Both Howse and Horak are excited about the possibility of beginning their pro careers in Abbotsford, just down the road from where they played their junior hockey. The odd thing of it is, their old junior club is no longer in Chilliwack – in April, the Bruins were sold to Graham Lee of Victoria’s RG Properties, who moved the club to the provincial capital.
It was a heartbreaking turn of events for Chilliwack hockey fans, and for Bruins players as well. Howse, in particular, was sad to see the team go, after investing so much of himself in the franchise over the years. He was the first bantam draft choice in Bruins history – third overall in 2005 – and finished as the team’s career leader in goals (140), points (217) and games played (262).
“That was my second home,” he said. “And now I have nothing. I feel like I don’t have a junior team to go back to. That makes it a little bit more tough at the end of the day.
“I don’t think they (the fans) deserved that. Maybe a lot of people didn’t come out, but I know the regulars were out there supporting 100 per cent, night in and night out. It’s definitely a little disappointing.”
As with most young players, Howse and Horak can expect to hit some speed bumps as they make the transition to pro hockey. Howse, listed at 6’0″, 205 pounds, has already drawn some constructive criticism from Feaster concerning his nutrition and fitness.
Heat head coach Troy Ward noted that Howse will be under a lot of scrutiny this season, having racked up 47 and 51 goals over his past two WHL campaigns. But watching him at the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton this week, Ward said Howse has handled himself well on and off the ice.
“I was proud of him,” Ward said. “Are there adjustments he needs to make physically? Sure there are. But the one thing you saw with him is, when he’s got the puck or he’s around the play, he can make plays.”
Horak scored a goal at the Young Stars event, beating San Jose Sharks keeper J.P. Anderson on a penalty shot to account for the Flames prospects’ lone tally in a 6-1 loss on Sunday. Ward called him “a very intelligent player.”
“It was nice for him to get a finish,” he said. “I think it’s good for his confidence going forward.”
• The Flames prospects wrapped up their three-game run in Penticton with a 4-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday evening. Sven Baertschi scored twice, while Dustin Sylvester and Lance Bouma added singles. Joni Ortio, making his third straight start in goal, turned aside 20 of 23 shots.
The Flames went 1-1-1 at the Penticton tourney, including the loss to San Jose and a 4-3 OT defeat to the Vancouver Canucks on Monday.
• The Flames prospects are now back in Calgary for the beginning of main camp, and play an exhibition game against the University of Calgary Dinos on Friday evening.
Roman Horak (above right) was a top point producer with the WHL’s Chilliwack Bruins. (Jenna Hauck photo / Black Press)