Falcon Turned to Ice and Found Career
If you’re surprised that Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Chad Ruhwedel has carved out a 12-year career in the NHL, you’re not alone.
Ruhwedel is too. From a certain perspective.
To be clear, every ounce of success Ruhwedel has enjoyed — from simply appearing in 320 career regular season games to receiving a Stanley Cup ring from the Penguins’ 2017 championship — has been earned through his devotion, determination and discipline.
But simply being here — in the NHL — isn’t something Ruhwedel even considered until the start of his senior year at Scripps Ranch High School in northeast San Diego. While kids from places such as Saskatoon or Stockholm dream of the NHL from the moment they can walk (or skate), Ruhwedel’s pursuits were more typical of a Southern Californian youth.
“When I was growing up, the NHL, college hockey didn’t really cross my mind until like high school,” Ruhwedel said Oct. 20 in Cranberry. “I was still surfing, playing other sports, had plenty of other activities going on. Don’t get me wrong, I played a lot of hockey but I had a lot of outside (interests).”
How did hockey even enter that mix for Ruhwedel?
“My parents didn’t play hockey but my mom (Robin) grew up outside Chicago for a little while,” Ruhwedel said. “So she was familiar with skating and some Blackhawks players and stuff. … It started with skating, just going to public sessions. (My parents) were big on if we loved a sport or an activity, we kept doing it.”
Somewhat surprisingly, finding ice in San Diego wasn’t a problem.
Finding ice time was another matter.
“By the time I left (to go play at the junior level), I had four, five rinks within 20 minutes of my house,” said Ruhwedel, whose team will play at Anaheim on Tuesday night. “So not too bad. When I was younger, about three that I stuck to. … So, there was definitely some options but not any type of free ice or open ice like you hear about in smaller towns. The rink was always packed, always being used just because of the sheer population.
“Some weird hours for practices and games but it all worked out.”
Nothing would have worked out as it did had Ruhwedel not opted to join the Los Angeles Junior Kings program in 2007. That program is similar to the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite operation which provides an elevated level of competition as well as a gateway to high-end junior or NCAA teams.
Participation is expensive, however. And in Ruhwedel’s case, it required regular transit up the coast.
“That’s two hours (with) no traffic,” said Ruhwedel, who grew up a fan of Anaheim Ducks defenseman Scott Niedermayer. “The commitment a lot of (other) people had at such a young age was crazy. I started doing it senior year which was a lot. It was a big financial investment for my parents. It wasn’t the easiest thing, but it was a necessary move and it ended up working out.”