Most hockey players get excited as the season approaches, yet Alaska Aces winger Tyler Ruegsegger, whose signing was announced by the ECHL club Thursday, is undoubtedly more eager than practically anyone.
After all, more than five months have passed since Ruegsegger's season came to a crashing, excruciating halt when he was struck in the face by a puck during practice while on promotion to the Abbotsford Heat of the American Hockey League.
"Power-play practice, first drill, 5-on-0, no pressure, just passing and shooting,'' Ruegsegger recounted over the phone. "Basically, I just took a one-timer right to the face.''
Ruegsegger said his right cheek "spider-webbed, like cracked glass,'' though, fortunately, the fractures remained stable. His lip was mangled, requiring reconstruction. Several of his teeth were pushed in -- miraculously, he did not loose any teeth -- and he required extensive dental work.
Ruegsegger missed the rest of the season, costing him potential playoff games with the Heat or, certainly, playoff games with the Aces.
"I was playing well, and to have that happen was disappointing,'' Ruegsegger said. "And the poor guy who hit me felt so bad. It was just a fluke, a random fluke.''
After taking a month completely off and returning to his family's home in Faribault, Minn. -- "The Calgary Flames and Abbotsford organizations were completely class acts about it,'' he said -- Ruegsegger began light exercise. He was cleared to play again at the start of June and has been skating at Shattuck-St. Mary's in Faribault with other pros and college players.
"I feel good, I feel healthy,'' Ruegsegger said. "I'm excited to get going.''
The Aces on Thursday also announced the signing of returning winger Garry Nunn, who will enter his third full season, and fourth season overall, with the only pro club he has known.
Both Nunn and Ruegsegger, who will enter his second full season, and third season overall, with the Aces, should provide offense, though in different ways.
Nunn, 22, is all about speed. In 67 games last season, he hit career highs in goals, assists and points with 15-29--44 totals, which ranked him fourth on the team in goals and tied for fourth in points. Aces coach Rob Murray expects Nunn to keep elevating his game.
"Realistically, he's going to be a guy we're going to lean on to bring (offense) to the team,'' Murray said. "He's shown he can do it, and now he has to show he can keep progressing.''
Ruegsegger, 24, is all about persistence. The culture of the sport demands unrelenting hard work -- less than total effort is considered a character flaw -- and Ruegsegger is known for consistent training and work habits.
"You cannot question the character of this kid,'' Murray said. "He's tenacious. He's relentless. That's him in a nutshell.''
In 47 games for the Aces last season, Ruegsegger delivered 13-12--25 totals. He also played eight AHL games -- four with Bridgeport, four with Abbotsford -- and has played 20 AHL games in his first two seasons.
This summer, he is working with a personal skating coach in Minnesota to improve the one part of his game that is below average.
"The one thing I know he has taken to heart is that he realizes what may be holding him back is his skating,'' Murray said. "I think he sees the value in it now. He's worked on it all summer. He's trying to improve.''
Ruegsegger said he has been playing shinny hockey this summer with a full face-mask but expects to soon go the half-shield all ECHL players wear. He doesn't think he'll be skittish about potentially being in the path of the puck.
"The first time I put a visor on, which I probably will soon, I don't think I'll be hesitant, just more aware,'' he said.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
2012-13 Alaska Aces With Thursday's announced signings of wingers Tyler Ruegsegger and Garry Nunn, the Alaska Aces have announced the signings of nine players for the 2012-13 ECHL season: Forwards -- Nick Mazzolini, Jordan Kremyr, Tim Hall, Matt Robinson, Tyler Ruegsegger, Garry Nunn. Defensemen -- Kane Lafranchise, Steve Ward. Goalie -- Gerald Coleman.
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News