When word reached Tyler Ruegsegger last week that the Utah Grizzlies had traded him to the Alaska Aces and he was scheduled to fly to Anchorage within a few hours, the rookie forward immediately recalled an unsettling memory.
"Not that flight again,'' Ruegsegger thought, mindful of a turbulent descent into Anchorage when he played for the University of Denver.
But Ruegsegger quickly remembered a vow he made to himself in his first season as a pro: Stay positive.
In short order, Ruegsegger (pronounced ROOG-say-gurr) received a call from Aces coach Brent Thompson, who was excited to add the rookie to his lineup. Aces rookie forward Zach Harrison, Ruegsegger's high school teammate at Shattuck-St. Mary's in Minnesota, soon called. And an outdoors magazine Ruegsegger bought featured an article that seemed fitting: "North To Alaska.''
Plus, Ruegsegger knew he always liked playing in Sullivan Arena, where in six career games for DU, he scored four goals, furnished five assists and helped the Pioneers win five Western Collegiate Hockey Association games.
"This is actually one of my favorite rinks in the WCHA,'' Ruegsegger said after practicing on the Sullivan ice Thursday morning. "I always felt comfortable out there. Some rinks just have a certain feel that you like.''
Other than adjusting to less daylight, the time change and infrequent sightings of the sun -- "you know, that orange ball,'' Ruegsegger said with a laugh -- the rookie said he's happy to be aboard his new club, which opens a three-game ECHL series tonight against visiting Bakersfield.
Ruegsegger is rooming with Harrison, and this is his first hockey season truly away from the comforts of home -- he is from the Denver suburb of Lakewood, and his mother and sister lived in Faribault, Minn., when he attended Shattuck there.
"I kind of look at it as my own adventure,'' Ruegsegger said. "This is my first year as a pro, and my first year away from home, as well. You enjoy the things you can, work hard and let the rest take care of itself because there are things you don't have any control over.''
Ruegsegger scored 56 goals and 123 points in 147 career games at Denver. He furnished Utah 7-7--14 totals in 35 games for Utah, but was on the three-day injured reserve at the time of his trade because the Grizzlies are deep at forward.
"I just wanted to come somewhere where I could contribute,'' said Ruegsegger, who has a degree in business administration from Denver. "To have a chance to play was great.''
Ruegsegger, who turned 23 last week, fired a team-high four shots on goal in his first game with Alaska, a 4-1 loss to Victoria last Friday, and furnished one goal and one assist in the Aces' 6-1 win the following night.
Thompson had targeted Ruegsegger in his offseason recruiting and kept him in mind. Thompson traded second-year forward Maxime Tanguay straight-up for Ruegsegger.
"He was on my radar,'' Thompson said. "He played well against us (for Utah) and he was always in the back of my mind. His work ethic is second to none and all the reports on him talk about his great character, and that fits our character and the mold of the team we want.''
Thompson said Ruegsegger, a three-time WCHA All-Academic honoree, picked up the Aces' systems in a heartbeat and has impressed with his ability to win battles along the boards and willingness to wade into the tough areas on the rink. Witness Ruegsegger's power-play goal last week, which came when he set a net-front screen and defenseman Steve Ward's one-timer from the center point ricocheted in off him.
Granted, Ruegsegger has played just two games with the Aces, but so far, so good.
Besides, he's got an old teammate here in Harrison and likes playing at Sullivan. Plus, he's got another Alaska connection that comes from the hockey-is-a-small-world file.
Ruegsegger's sister, Becca, is a sophomore goaltender at the University of Wisconsin, where her roommate is sophomore defenseman Alev Kelter of Eagle River.
Shuffling the deck
First-line left winger Scott Howes, who missed the last three games with an upper-body injury, is expected back in the lineup tonight.
Winger Jared Stewart, who suffered a concussion Saturday against Victoria when former Aces defenseman Ryan Turek drove him into the glass, will likely be out of the lineup at least a couple weeks. He missed six games earlier this season with a concussion.
When the Aces last played Bakersfield -- the Condors won 2-1 in California on Jan. 14 -- Bakersfield forward Bobby Robins took out Aces defenseman Bryan Miller with a hit that earned Robins a major penalty for contact to the head and, subsequently, a league-imposed, four-game suspension. Miller missed three games. The Aces also were unhappy with a run taken at center Brian Swanson.
Probably not a coincidence, then, that former Aces enforcer Mike Lee, who is retired but racked 1,012 career penalty minutes in 274 pro games, was at Thursday's practice to furnish some fighting pointers.
The Aces' 20 fighting majors tie them for fewest in the 19-team ECHL with South Carolina, according to hockeyfights.com
Bakersfield ranks sixth with 38 fighting majors. Stockton is well out in front with a league-high 63 fighting majors. Utah's 55 fighting majors puts it No. 2.
Ruegsegger, who in Howes' absence logged ample time on the first line last week with Swanson and Wes Goldie, knows about playing on a dynamic line. Last season at Denver, Ruegsegger played with Rhett Rakhshani and Joe Colborne, and the trio combined for 59 goals and 132 points in 41 games.
Rakhshani made his NHL debut for the New York Islanders this season and, having spent most of the season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, will play in the American Hockey League All-Star Game on Monday. Colborne, a first-round draft pick of the Boston Bruins, plays for AHL Providence.
The Aces plan to bring in rookie forward Brandon Coccimiglio, 23, in for a tryout. Coccimiglio recently left Mercyhurst College after posting 35-42--77 totals in 111 career games over three-plus seasons. The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder played two games for ECHL Greenville, but did not register a point.
SERIES OPENER: Bakersfield Condors (21-18-2) at Alaska Aces (22-15-2). Tonight, 7:15; Saturday night, 7:15; Sunday night, 5:05. Sullivan Arena RADIO: LIVE AM-750Blog: Woody on Hockey
By DOYLE WOODY