Adding someone with extensive NHL head-coaching experience to their staff might seem like an intimidating prospect to many AHL bench bosses.
"My criteria has always been, if I can have people who have been head coaches alongside me, I think it makes everybody better," Ward told The News on Wednesday, after the Heat and the NHL parent Calgary Flames announced Ftorek's hiring.
"He flew here to my lake house in Wisconsin for two days, and we spent a lot of time talking the game, talking life and talking about where we are in our careers and what we want to accomplish yet. And it was a good fit.
"His makeup is, he's just selfless. He's a class act, he treats people right, and he's very hard-working, very driven . . . I'm elated to have him alongside me."
Ftorek, who played 334 NHL games and 373 more in the WHA during a professional playing career that ran from 1972 to 1986, has coached at the highest level.
The 61-year-old Needham, Mass. native, reputed to be an excellent teacher of the game, served as head coach with three NHL franchises: the Los Angeles Kings (1987-89), the New Jersey Devils (1998-2000) and the Boston Bruins (2001-03).
He also boasts an impressive AHL resumé, having guided the Albany River Rats to the Calder Cup title in 1994-95.
Most recently, he spent five-plus seasons coaching junior hockey with the OHL's Erie Otters (2007-12) – a stint which Ward believes will be very beneficial as he transitions to the Heat.
"I think he understands the athlete who's coming to Abbotsford – the new-millenium kids," Ward said. "I think his communication (with players) will be great."
Ftorek fills the void left after Luke Strand and Cail MacLean, Ward's assistants the past two seasons, both elected to depart in search of jobs that would allow them more time with their families, which was significantly curtailed by the Heat's grueling travel schedule.
"It's a tough business to be in, and it costs a lot of family time," Ward said. "Both of those guys felt they needed to recommit to their families, look at the bigger picture."
While Strand is still exploring his options, MacLean has already nailed down a job – he'll be the girls varsity hockey coach and associate director of admissions at Kimball Union Academy, a private boarding school in New Hampshire.
Ward said Ftorek will be the Heat's lone assistant coach next season. Goalie coach Jordan Sigalet is also on the staff.
CONROY'S HEAT ROLE EXPANDING
The Flames also announced Wednesday that Craig Conroy, the special assistant to general manager Jay Feaster, will take on the Heat's day-to-day hockey-related management responsibilities in 2013-14. John Weisbrod, the assistant GM of player personnel, handled those duties the past two seasons.
"John is still mostly involved with any personnel decision we have in the hockey department – that won't change," Ward explained. "But in terms of the day-to-day interface of what we're dealing with . . . those things were routed through John too, and now they're going to be routed through Craig.
"It's good on both ends. It's good for Robbie and I to have a new boss and somebody that we'll get to know a little bit better, and at the same time, I think it's good for Craig. Craig's ultimate goal is to be a GM in the National Hockey League, and this is one of those steps along the way that's probably necessary for him in his process."