In this edition of Calgary Flames News & Rumors: Juuso Valimaki was recently assigned to the Stockton Heat of the American Hockey League (AHL) as management tries to find him more playing time. In other news, goaltender Dustin Wolf’s play in his rookie season with the Heat has many excited about what the future holds. Meanwhile, Wolf’s teammate, Adam Ruzicka, made his 2021-22 NHL debut on Tuesday versus the Vegas Golden Knights. Lastly, former Flames head coach Bill Peters was fired by Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).
Valimaki Re-Assigned to Stockton
The 2021-22 season has been very disappointing for Valimaki. After an up and down rookie season in 2020-21, many, including himself, hoped he would take a big step forward this year, but that hasn’t been the case. Before being re-assigned to the Heat, the 23-year-old was a healthy scratch in all but one game over the past month.
The news must have been disappointing for the 2017 first-round pick, but the good news is that he will get a ton of playing time in the AHL. The early results have been great; he has three assists through two games. Head coach Darryl Sutter recently explained the decision to send Valimaki down:
“He’s got to play,” Sutter said. “Just very clear. He’s got to play lots. He probably got ahead of the curve a little bit. I think there’s four guys older than him in Stockton, too, on defence. He’s the youngest defenceman here, and it doesn’t serve any purpose.
“He’s got to play games. Quite honestly, he got beat out in training camp (Oliver Kylington). He’s got to get back to earning it and showing it, rather than bestowed upon him.”
Hopefully, Valimaki takes this opportunity to improve his game, regain confidence and play at the level many believe he is capable of. The frustration of not playing had weighed on him, as he mentioned his displeasure in a Finnish interview last month. Playing plenty and often with the Heat could help him enjoy the game again.
Wolf Off to Fantastic Start
Many have started to suggest that the Flames selected the steal of the 2019 NHL Draft when they chose Dustin Wolf in the seventh round (214th overall). The 20-year-old posted ridiculous numbers during his four seasons in the Western Hockey League (WHL), but many still questioned his ability given his small stature for a goalie. Now, in his rookie season with the Heat, he is proving to everyone how good he is.
Through 11 games with the Heat this season, Wolf has a superb 2.06 goals-against average (GAA), a .935 save percentage (SV%) and a 9-0-2 record. It’s still early, but right now, he seems to have the potential to become the future number one goaltender for the Flames. Yet, he has remained humble.
“Your purpose is to go out there and stop every that comes your way,” said Wolf when asked about his success. “Obviously there’s going to be goals that go in, and those are the ones you have to look at as a learning opportunity. I’m just trying to play as many games as I can. We’ve got a real good group down here and a real good team down here. So, my job hasn’t been too hard to this point – I think it’s been a real good start. I’m just trying to adjust to the new lifestyle of pro hockey so far so I’m trying to keep that up” (from Kristen Anderson, ‘BRINGING THE HEAT: Wolf forces himself into Flames goalie puzzle,’ Calgary Sun, 12/02/21).
Given the Flames’ success with their duo of Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar, we likely won’t Wolf in the NHL this season. However, if he continues to play well, he might push for some playing time in 2022-23.
Ruzicka’s First Game
Adam Ruzicka has seen his stock rise tremendously in the past year. Last season, he played the first three NHL games of his career and posted an impressive 21 points in 28 games with the Heat. He had an even better start this season, with 10 goals and 16 points in 13 games to earn a call-up to the big club.
After watching a few games, Ruzicka got in the lineup on Sunday versus the Golden Knights. He centred the team’s fourth line with Brad Richardson and Dillon Dube but was unable to find the scoresheet. Given that he played less than nine minutes, it seems his big NHL opportunity might not be here just yet. But given his development in the past season and a half, it should be a matter of time before he makes an impact in the Flames’ lineup.
Bill Peters Fired
In November 2019, the Flames were forced to fire their head coach, Bill Peters, after one of his former players, Akim Aliu, said Peters made numerous racist comments toward him. General manager Brad Treliving had no choice but to move on from Peters, and that put an end to his time in the NHL.
Roughly five months later, Peters was named the head coach of Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg. However, he was let go this past Tuesday after his team had a 14-15-5 record to start the season. We’ll see if another coaching opportunity pops up for him, but it is difficult to believe he will get another coaching opportunity in North America.
Up Next for the Flames
After a Sunday night loss to the Golden Knights, the Flames will be looking for a win when they take on the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday. Like the Flames, the Sharks are a much better team in 2021-22 than most anticipated, and while they are beatable, they won’t go down easy. Calgary then faces another very good team in the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday and will finish their week with a tilt against the Boston Bruins on Friday.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.