Oxford, Ohio - Hidden in the University of Denver hockey team's season-opening 5-2 loss to Miami (Ohio) on Friday were the two assists and overall veteran effort from Pioneers freshman center Tyler Ruegsegger.
The Lakewood native is among eight Coloradans on the DU roster, but he falls in a one-of-a-kind category with regard to homegrown success stories.
Ruegsegger, 18, joined the Pioneers straight out of high school hockey, a jump rarely seen in Division I and particularly with the Pioneers. He is the first full-scholarship, Colorado-born player to make that jump in the 13-year tenure of coach George Gwozdecky.
The Pioneers originally wanted Ruegsegger to play this season for a junior-A team in the United States Hockey League, and defer the scholarship he signed a year ago to begin in 2007. But because of his phenomenal season at Shattuck-St. Mary's High School in Faribault, Minn. - where he led the national champion team with 89 points and 38 goals in 60 games - Denver felt he was ready. Good move. Ruegsegger was again one of DU's best players in Saturday's IceBreaker Invitational consolation game against Colgate. He centered the second line with Patrick Mullen and J.D. Corbin, which went 12-6 on faceoffs, and had four shots, second most on the team. Ruegsegger was used to help kill Colgate's 6-on-5 attack in the final minute, and he cleared the puck out of the DU zone with 20 seconds remaining to preserve the Pioneers' 3-2 victory.
"I thought my first weekend went well," said Ruegsegger, a product of the Littleton Hawks youth hockey program. "Our team definitely got better each night and I was thrilled to be out there. I had fun and the team played well tonight, and that's what it's all about."
Gwozdecky has high praise for Ruegsegger, a 2006 sixth-round selection of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"Tyler plays with a high skill level and a determination that at times borders on reckless, and I use that in a very positive way," Gwozdecky said. "He's not very big, but he plays big and physical because he's so relentless and determined. Those are very valuable things to have."
Great start for a great kid with great upside. Doesn't take a veteran hockey coach to see his talent, and the fact is he's got to one of the nicest kids ever to play the game. Play he does and with relentless abandon. I have watched him for a while and now envy the DU fans who will get to see him every week.
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