Not more than five minutes after most Alaska Aces home games, Tyler Ruegsegger emerges briskly from the team's dressing room at Sullivan Arena, still sweating from his night's labor, but still not done.
He wears compression shorts, with a loose pair of shorts over those, and a T-shirt. Invariably, Ruegsegger's clothing is all black -- he just likes black workout stuff. He usually holds a plastic drink container filled with a protein shake and shakes his wrist to mix the concoction as he heads down the hallway to the team's cramped gym.
In the gym, he rides the stationary bicycle to cool down. He might have ridden the bike before the game, as well. Whether he does the extra work -- usually, he does -- and how much depends on the day of the week. Or whether the Aces have a game-heavy schedule that week. Or how his body feels. Or the advice of his trainer back home in Colorado. Or all of the above.
For Ruegsegger, the frequent postgame workout serves as part of his fitness plan and his routine, as well as his recovery process.
"I've found, over time, my body feels better if I'm doing something,'' Ruegsegger said. "It's basically taken years of tinkering around. It's a balance that I've found over a long period of time.''
And it's a measure of both his capacity, and his drive, to improve his conditioning and his game. Hockey is a game in which laziness is considered a cardinal sin, and no one has ever hinted that Ruegsegger (pronounced ROOG-say-gurr) possesses anything but a earnest willingness to work.
Just watch him skate to the bench after his shift -- he even busts his butt on line changes. Granted, the 6-foot, 195-pound Ruegsegger isn't always pretty -- the 23-year-old's skating has improved and still has ample room for improvement -- but he is productive.
Ruegsegger in 31 games this season owns 10-7--17 scoring totals that tie him for fourth in goals on the ECHL's top team -- strong numbers for a guy who hasn't logged significant power-play time. After then-coach Brent Thompson acquired him in a trade with Utah last season, Ruegsegger furnished 9-6--15 totals in 23 regular-season games and 4-4--8 totals in 13 playoff games to help the Aces seize the Kelly Cup.
First-year Aces coach Rob Murray recognized Ruegsegger's relentless nature early in training camp and raves about the second-year winger's commitment.
"Everything he has, he works for,'' Murray said. "He's not the best skater, not the biggest guy. He just works his ass off in every aspect of the game.
"He's just tenacious. He doesn't stop. He literally exhausts himself every shift.''
None of this is news to Zach Harrison, who currently centers a line that includes Ruegsegger. Harrison and Ruegsegger attended and played hockey at Shattuck-St. Mary's, a prep school in Minnesota, and are close friends and roommates.
"When he puts his mind on a certain thing, he's all-in,'' Harrison said. "He goes and works hard at it, or studies it.''
Not that Ruegsegger doesn't have a sense of humor. He does his off-ice workouts wearing flat Puma shoes -- Ruegsegger thinks they are actually designed for motor sports -- that are, well, very white and sleek. He likes the shoes because they have thin, flat bottoms, but concedes that they stand out among hockey players. Some of his teammates refer to them as Ruegsegger's "ballerina shoes.''
"I take a lot of heat for these,'' Ruegsegger said, pointing to his footwear and laughing. "Lot of heat.''
Ruegsegger grew up in Colorado watching Peter Forsberg, the enormously skilled Swedish center who did not shy away from the hard areas of the rink. These days, he still likes to watch NHL players who combine skill and grit, like Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg.
Ruegsegger traces his love of labor, and his relentless style, to his father, Doug, an attorney.
"When I was a player growing up, my dad always said, 'Every shift, play as hard as you can,' " Ruegsegger said. "That's just something I do in life -- try to work hard at everything, try to do it with passion and try to do it with purpose.''
By Ruegsegger's count, his father missed two of his 147 career games at the University of Denver. These days, Doug Ruegsegger either watches Aces games online or listens to them over the Internet. Father and son talk on the phone after every game, sometimes when Tyler is riding the bike.
"My dad, bless him,'' Ruegsegger said. "This is for him too. And he's not one of those hockey dads. He's very positive.''
His son tends to make the most of any situation. Last month, for instance, Ruegsegger made a terrible mistake. His errant pass went directly to Utah's Justin Dowling, who scored a breakaway goal to open the scoring in the final minute of the first period. Ruegsegger in the third period made a fantastic play that combined skill and hustle to set up teammate Wes Goldie's clinching insurance goal in a 3-1 Aces win.
"Some guys would pout about it, and you've lost them for the rest of the game,'' Murray said. "He made a point of reconciling his mistake. The rest of the game, he made up for it.''
Like most guys in the ECHL, Ruegsegger's ambitions lie one circuit higher, in the American Hockey League. Earlier this season, he played four games for AHL Bridgeport Sound, coached by former Aces bench boss Thompson. And as a rookie last season, he earned 12 games with AHL Abbotsford.
When Ruegsegger returned to the Aces from Bridgeport earlier this month, Murray said the first thing the winger asked him to do was set up an appointment with renowned power skating coach Laura Stamm of Anchorage.
And long after practice finished Tuesday morning, Murray said he came across one player -- Ruegsegger -- still at Sullivan.
"Everybody was gone, or filtering out, and he was in riding the bike,'' Murray said.
Ruegsegger's work is never done.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Two more Aces promoted
The Alaska Aces are the ECHL's top hockey team and their players are in demand -- in the American Hockey League. And with two more Aces loaned to AHL clubs Wednesday -- goaltender Gerald Coleman headed to the Lake Erie Monsters and defenseman Brandon Gentile was promoted to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers -- five players who started the season with the Aces are now in the AHL.
That means the Aces will entertain the Stockon Thunder tonight with 14 skaters -- nine forwards and five defensemen. That's two skaters short of the ECHL maximum of 16.
Coleman, a seventh-year pro, has played in 81 career AHL games. This marks the first AHL promotion for Gentile, a third-year pro.
The Aces still up in the AHL are winger Scott Howes (Bridgeport Sound), winger Chris Bruton (Peoria) and defenseman Russ Sinkewich (Abbotsford). And that's not counting center Chris Langkow, who signed an ECHL deal to return to the Aces for a second season, but started the season with Bridgeport Sound and has been out with a head injury for nearly three months.
Home series: Stockton Thunder (15-13-4) at Alaska Aces (26-5-5); Tonight, Friday and Saturday nights, 7:15, Sullivan Arena Radio: Live, AM-750 KFQD Woody on hockey:Blog: Woody on Hockey
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News