Archive for February, 2008

Looking Back: Laredo Coach Terry Ruskowski

Friday, February 15th, 2008

Last January, I caught up with Laredo coach Terry Ruskowski at a game in Rio Rancho. Here’s what he told me.

Timbits Trivia of the Day:

Ruskowski admits, “I probably go through six to eight pieces of gum a game.”

Rosco Jan 07 “Rosco,” as he’s known to his players and colleagues, must have one heckofa jaw. But he had tough chops long before he was coaching. As a player in the World Hockey Association and the NHL during the days of Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe, Ruskowski commonly defied his smaller stature by sticking up for his teammates to just about anyone. His dedication earned him the “C” on his jersey more seasons than not. Although he tallied the most assists for the Chicago Blackhawks during the 1979-80 season, Ruskowski most often topped the roster in penalty minutes, amassing 1,354 PIMs overall in his 10-year NHL career. “My teammates always knew I had their backs, whatever happened,” says Ruskowski.

Ready to Rumble

Sticking up for your teammates can build unity and demonstrate a solid work ethic. Aggression can translate into wins by way of out-hustling other teams. Ruskowski puts this positive spin on owning a higher count of penalty minutes, and it manifests in the teams he coaches. “It’s being aggressive and wanting to win, never backing down from a challenge, meeting the challenge head-on. My philosophy is: it’s not whether you win or lose, as long as you show up and show your teammates and the other team you’re willing to do whatever it takes to meet the challenge,” he shares.I'm gonna need another piece of gum...

Ruskowski says the most effective quality of a coach is recruiting ability. “You try to recruit the players who have character and want to win. When your team has character and doesn’t like to lose, it makes the coaching job a lot easier.” He’s gleaned the most successful tools from the various coaches he’s played for, including Roger Neilson and Pat Quinn. For coaches, too, Ruskowski emphasizes a strong work ethic and thorough preparation, with an added personal touch. “All you have to do as a coach is try to get the other team’s weaknesses and try to manipulate them, then go forward from there. If you can take a little bit from each of the ideas of other coaches, it’ll benefit you in the long run. I also think if you’re your own person, you’ll be a better coach. If you can’t be yourself, then you won’t be a good coach.”

Put the Hurtin’ On

Weaknesses? Players don’t reveal any they can hide. Guessing at the number of less consequential pains players suffer in a game, Ruskowski sighs, “Oh… Lordy. Everyday there’s a list that my trainer gives me of bumps or bruises or cuts that we had sewn up. We probably have two or three guys a game who have some sort of aches and pains. We’re padded okay, but obviously the padding can’t cover the whole body, so it’s from blocked shots, nicks across the arms and that kind of stuff. During the whole year I couldn’t imagine – way over 100.”

Presumably, it’s all worth it for the two CHL President’s Cups the Bucks earned in 2004 and 2006 (plus the extremely near-miss in 2005), and just over a 70 percent win record by the team since their inception – with Ruskowski at the helm. It’s no surprise that a guy whose birthday is New Year’s Eve knows how to create excuses to celebrate big. “Everyone celebrates my birthday,” Ruskowski smiles.

Rosco’s Law

While many teams find themselves overconfident with what masks itself as a secure lead, ultimately losing the game, Ruskowski tells his team to keep up the pace. “You rely on your team to do the job on the ice. What I can do is if we’re ahead by two goals, I try not to change up a whole lot. I don’t like to sit back and let the other team come at me. I like to be aggressive and keep on going. What I do not like is an odd-man advantage against us. So we make sure that we’re defensively sound.”

Keep workin' boys! On the flip-side, say, with a 5-goal deficit, Ruskowski expects about the same. “We try to create more opportunities by getting the defensemen into the play, going to the net as hard as they can for rebounds and the screen, trying to get back on the track. That kind of deficit is pretty tough to come back from. All I can say is, you have to keep on working hard and whatever happens, happens.” And whether his team is playing Colorado or Wichita, Ruskowski knows it can be a mistake to not get “up” for the game. “Rivalry teams keep you on your toes, like Rio Grande and Corpus. But if you’re not on your toes for any team you play against, you’re not going to win. There are times when the players themselves get more up for games, like Colorado.”

Hockey Days in Canada

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

OMG! My secret formula works! (see Dec. 2 posting)

Just as I predicted, On January 30th Rocky Mountain lost 4-3 in OT (technically, a shootout), meaning that according to my formula, they were destined to lose to New Mexico – okay we’ll settle for Corpus Christi – on February 1st. Sure as shootin’ the Rage fell to the Rayz 4-3. Genius! Wonder if we’ll have a chance to test this again in the playoffs….

Y’all watched the NHL outdoor game on New Years Day? There sure are a lot of people willing to freeze their small parts to sAstana in Albuquerqueee an outdoor hockey game. Still, are those games a ton of fun or what? Way more than, say, freezing your small parts off to watch Green Bay lose to the Giants. Maybe equally as fun as chasing the professional cycling team Astana on a training ride in 32 degrees and impending snow….

Speaking of unspeakably cold weather, this past fall I took a trip to Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City. The weather was actually quite nice, other than a little rain. But can you believe I had to wait 2.5 days before hearing Rush on the radio? Heard Bryan Adams right off.

Oh Canada... In the Toronto area, I paid $5 to see a PeeWee game. In case your kids don’t play hockey, PeeWees are 11 and 12-year-olds and they’re allowed to body check. It was actually some skilled, quality hockey – like the NHL but much slower – rather than the messy stuff you get in my adult beer league composed of people who didn’t play as kids. The player I went to see, Connor, was one of the team’s top offensive threats with predictable sass to match. On the drive to dinner in separate cars, the superstar mooned out the window of his ride. Just wait ‘till he’s 17 and/or famous.

Over dinner, his dad explained that Conner’s team, the Hamilton Junior Bulldogs, a Minor PeeWee AAA team, has an owner. Coaches at that level can make up to $50K a year. Connor’s parents were wined and dined for the purpose of player recruitment. I’m talking PeeWees, people.Montreal from Mont Royal

In Montreal, I tried to finagle a ticket to the Big Show but it was the Canadiens’ season opener. There was no way I was gonna get one for any less than an arm and a leg, maybe throw in an ear. La Cage aux Sports is a popular sports bar in the area. The Bell Centre has its own La Cage which serves as an affordable alternative to game tickets. It has a big window through which you can stick your tongue out at rich and lucky fans walking the Bell Centre concourse, and peak into the arena seating as well.

The sounds of the arena are pumped into the bar when it’s not the TV broadcast announcers, who speak French of course. There were no less than 30 television screens all tuned into the football game – not! One had a poker game on it though – not! Believe me, they all had the hockey game and it was a good one. Unfortunately, the home team lost to Carolina. Afterwards, I snuck into the arena and sat in a real seat and pretended the real game was still going, the roar of the crowd, Koivu scoring a goal….

Quebec or France? I did my best to speak something that might be mistaken for French in Quebec City. I figured out the accent: speak as if you have a mouthful of soft cheese. The hotel bartender, Marc, who spoke impeccable French by the way, totally agreed. Go ahead, try it! Maybe find a little privacy first.

A few days later at La Cage in QC, the patrons cheered, “Let’s Go CanaDIENS; let’s go ABS!” (There isn’t a “ha” sound in French.) Montreal lost again, 2-1 to Florida in a shootout.

Every business in Old Quebec City was Halloween-crazed. DecorationsWhich one's real? everywhere. October is also apple season. Each person walking with produce carried an apple. Personally, I ate way too many French fries. I’m repulsed by the idea of dipping them in mayonnaise, but when in Quebec…. Come to find out, it’s good. Really good. Note to self: forget how good it is. I also tried them in gravy, which was gross.

I wanna ride!With temperatures dipping enough to open the mini, outdoor skating rink, it was time to head south and catch the start of the Central Hockey League season, before the air turned wicked cold.

Timbits:

Not to make it all about the Rage, but see what I mean? (see Nov. 15th posting) Teams like the Rage can potentially bounce back from a large deficit. Maybe not 7-0, but hella close:

The Central Hockey League (CHL) announced today that the Rocky Mountain Rage’s third period comeback on December 29th versus the Tulsa Oilers has been selected as the recipient of week 11’s Performance of the Week. The Rage fell behind 5-0 after two periods of play but battled back with five goals in the third period to tie the game and ultimately winning the contest in a shootout.”