2013 Frozen Four: Ruhwedel’s long hockey path leads to Lowell, then Buffalo

By DJ Powers

Chad Ruhwedel - UMass-Lowell

Photo: Chad Ruhwedel, who led the UMass-Lowell defense in scoring during the 2012-13 season, signed a pro contract with the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday (courtesy of Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)

Defenseman Chad Ruhwedel didn’t take a short path to the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. In fact, the junior rearguard’s path was a rather winding one since he first started to play hockey in his hometown of San Diego, CA.

It all began with skating lessons with Larry Cahn, who would become one of his future coaches.

“I started working with Larry when I was pretty young,” Ruhwedel remembers. “He gave me a lot of private lessons and was really good in working with me. He would use just a little bit of the ice like in public skating sessions and would teach me how to skate, work on my edges and all of those little things like that.”

Ruhwedel started his playing career as a member of the San Diego Junior Gulls. He also played with the nearby La Jolla Jaguars. In the spring of 2012, those two programs merged to become the revamped San Diego Junior Gulls. While with the (original) Junior Gulls, Ruhwedel played for Cahn and Jay Hebert. And it was playing for Hebert that exposed Ruhwedel to a different style of play that would begin to shape the type of defenseman that he would become at UMass-Lowell.

“Jay kind of brought a new style of hockey that I hadn’t really been accustomed to,” Ruhwedel noted about Hebert. “It was at a lot faster pace and had more flow to it.”

One notable attribute about Ruhwedel is his excellent skating ability, which can be traced back to his roller hockey days at Scripps Ranch High School, his alma mater.

After spending nearly all of youth hockey playing days in the San Diego area, Ruhwedel moved up to the elite AAA Midget Major level in high school with the Los Angeles Junior Kings. While with the Junior Kings’ 18AAA team, he would play under the tutelage of Jack Bowkus. And as Ruhwedel explains Bowkus was as demanding of his players as they were of him.

“I didn’t start playing AAA hockey until I was a senior in high school. I played for Jack on the U18 team and he’s had a great impact on me. Jack was a good coach, a tough coach, but he expected a lot out of his players, which was good because the team expected a lot out of him too. So it was a good mix. Having a coach like Jack that has coached at higher levels coaching midget players was really good because I think it helped create a lot of chemistry and a lot of firepower on our team. I was just ecstatic to make that team. There were a lot of quality players on that team. And just to be a part of that organization was great. I’m really happy that I was a part of it.”

Playing for the Junior Kings provided Ruhwedel with top-flight development as well as a demanding travel schedule, but it also gave him the necessary exposure to play at the higher levels.

That exposure would lead to a stint in the USHL with Sioux Falls. While with the Stampede, Ruhwedel accumulated a combined 33 points (five goals, 28 assists) in 113 career games.

After two years with Sioux Falls, Ruhwedel matriculated at UMass-Lowell in the fall of 2010. During his three years with the River Hawks, Ruhwedel blossomed into one of Hockey East’s best puck-moving defensemen. He has successfully balanced his offensive prowess with responsible defensive play. He is equally adept in both power play and penalty killing situations.

This season, Ruhwedel has been a key cog in UMass-Lowell’s successful run to their first Frozen Four appearance. He finished his junior (and final) year, leading the River Hawks in defensive scoring with 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists) playing in all 41 games. His plus-16 ranks tied for second on the team. Ruhwedel’s stellar season earned him numerous accolades including a selection to the All-Hockey East First team and being named the Defenseman of the Year by the New England Hockey Writers Association. Most recently, he was named to the All-America East First team. A day after being named an All-American, Ruhwedel signed with the Buffalo Sabres.

Ruhwedel is the latest in the group of California natives, which includes San Jose Sharks prospects Matt Nieto and Matt Tennyson, to recently join the pro ranks. Ruhwedel notes that the increasing number of California players finding success at both the NCAA and pro levels is a testament to how the game has grown and gotten better throughout the state.

“It’s unbelievable. I think hockey has really developed in California and it’s also exciting. The youth programs in California are growing and they’re becoming national powerhouses, whether it’s the (California) Wave or the Junior Kings or whatever. A lot of the kids are moving on to programs like Shattuck’s or the New England prep schools and I think that just shows how big hockey has gotten throughout California. There are plenty of people out there and if you build a rink, people will come. That’s something that I wasn’t used to seeing when I was younger. When kids today see or try hockey for the first time, they tend to fall in love with it. And the support that they’re getting from the (pro) organizations, other youth programs and the coaches that put in the kind of hours for these kids that they do, has been really good and I’ve definitely benefited from it.”

Through his successful ascension to reach the professional ranks, Ruhwedel has never forgotten his San Diego roots and the many people along the way that have helped him get to where he is today.

“All of the coaches that I played for growing up in San Diego were all phenomenal and monumental in my life. I think all of the little things that they’ve all taught me when I was growing up are starting to show a lot better now and it’s definitely something that I haven’t forgotten.”

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