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Ruhwedel introduces prestigious Stanley Cup to San Diego

 

Ruhwedel-JoeSargent

Stanley liked Southern California so much that he decided to start his summer vacation there for the second year in a row.

The occasion on June 30 was Chad Ruhwedel’s day with the hardest trophy to win in professional sports, the Stanley Cup.

The defenseman from San Diego earned a date with Stanley by virtue of his role in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ run to repeating as champions. A year ago, then-Penguin Beau Bennett of Gardena raised the Cup.

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Ruhwedel’s day included a lengthy stop at the San Diego Ice Arena, a rink from his youth, so the region’s hockey fans – an estimated 1,000 turned out – could either meet or renew acquaintances with Ruhwedel and Stanley.

“It was awesome,” Ruhwedel said. “There was a really good turnout. It was great to see so many San Diego people getting to visit the Cup. The sport is getting bigger here, and having that AHL team (the Gulls) here is helping.”

Ruhwedel is one of San Diego County’s hockey success stories. He played for SDIA’s Oilers, the La Jolla Jaguars and the Jr. Gulls growing up before parents John and Robin signed on for the lengthy commute to El Segundo so their son could play Midget AAA for the Los Angeles Jr. Kings.

And he hasn’t forgotten those who played a key role in his development.

“Obviously my friends and family have always supported me. They would always let me know I was playing well, and that meant a lot,” Ruhwedel said. “My college coach (Norm Bazin, at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell) was really instrumental in my success. Youth hockey coaches along the way and everyone who helped out during the summers to help me get ready to play. That all adds up in the end.”

The list of coaching influences includes: “Jack Bowkus with the Jr. Kings, Jay Hebert with the San Diego Gulls – he treated it like a professional program and showed us how to act like a pro. Joe Norris (a former Gulls and Mariners player) and Scott Curry (La Jolla) were really big when I was younger, and in my really young days – Craig Sterling and his staff at SDIA.”

Ruhwedel is an elite skater with excellent instincts, and when the 5-foot-11, 191-pounder became a free agent in 2016, he signed with the Penguins after three-plus seasons in Buffalo’s organization.

“We felt my skill set was a good fit, and we knew they’d be a championship contender,” he said. “Obviously, it worked out well.”

So well the Penguins signed him for two more years shortly after winning the Cup. Ruhwedel played in 34 NHL games this season (one more than his previous career total), getting 10 points and boasting a plus-9. He also played in his first six Stanley Cup playoff games before sustaining a concussion in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final. That happened while he was nursing a hand injury serious to require postseason surgery. He said he’s healed up on both fronts.

When injuries decimated the Penguins’ roster, Ruhwedel had positioned himself as an attractive call-up option after putting up 16 points in 28 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL).

Pittsburgh’s ability to fight through adversity paid dividends later.

“We were depleted the whole year,” he said. “The way we found ways to win, we knew we could make something special. The mentality we had through the playoffs, we knew if we played our game, we’d be successful.”

The magnitude of June’s achievement is still a lot to digest.

“I started to realize my sophomore or junior year in college that I could have a pro career, but I never thought I could dream of going all the way to the Stanley Cup Final and winning it,” Ruhwedel said.

“(Pro hockey) is definitely a grind at times, but at the end of the day, it’s so worth it.”

Photo/Joe Sargent/Pittsburgh Penguins

— Chris Bayee