Matt invited me to guest-write the bio for Tuomo Ruutu. Actually, that isn’t quite true; I strong-armed him into letting me write it. Since the objective of the Canes and Coffee summer event is to have a little fun waxing nostalgic on Hurricanes history and players, I thought this would be a prime opportunity to talk about my all-time favorite hockey player, which I don’t get the chance to do nearly often enough anymore.
We’ll get the vital statistics out of the way first. Drafted 9th overall by Chicago in 2001, Ruutu played four seasons for the Blackhawks before being traded to the Hurricanes on February 26, 2008 in exchange for Andrew Ladd. During seven seasons with the Canes, he played in 378 games and logged 90 goals, 216 points (tying him with Jeff Skinner for 8th in franchise history), 30 power play goals (also tied-8th), held a 12% shooting percentage, and went 6-for-17 (35%) in shootouts. Ruutu surpassed the 50-point mark twice and leads all Hurricanes forwards in hits with 1101 (second overall behind Tim Gleason).
He scored a career-best 26 goals (10 power play) in 2008-09 which was instrumental in helping propel the Canes to their first playoff appearance since the 2006 Cup year. His career-best 57 points and 38 assists came in 2010-11, where he spent most of the season on a line with Jeff Skinner, helping the young rookie to a Calder trophy performance. 84% (26) of Skinner’s 31 goals that season were scored with Ruutu as his linemate.
Outside the NHL, he medaled in a ridiculous 11 straight international tournaments (including Olympic bronze twice) for Team Finland before his streak was broken in last summer’s World Championships.
Here’s what the stats don’t reveal.
There’s no exact English language equivalent for the Finnish word ‘sisu’. Sisu is a combination of bravery, determination, will, and resolve to keep fighting in the face of adversity. It’s the essence of Finnish culture. In hockey terms, players are similarly described with terms like grit, guts, or the ever-popular “intangibles”. Watching Tuomo Ruutu on the ice was like watching the embodiment of the Finnish spirit of sisu.
Ruutu had never stepped foot (skates?) onto North Carolina soil before the day he was traded to the Canes, and fans began to doubt he would even show up that day, as flight delays from Chicago put him at risk for missing that evening’s game against the New Jersey Devils. After being coached on the Canes system from Ron Francis in the back of a police escort car, Ruutu arrived at PNC Arena in time to don gear and join teammates on the bench for puck drop. On his first shift he blocked a shot. On his second shift he lined up Colin White for a crushing hit along the boards. The hit reverberated through the arena and the crowd erupted: Ruuuuu! Tuomo Ruutu had arrived; a Finnish bull in a china shop.
He was credited with three hits, two blocked shots, and an assist. The Canes would win 2-1 in overtime, but Ruutu was unable to play in overtime or take his twirl on the ice as the game’s third star after being clipped in the face by the blunt end of Patrik Elias’ stick, leaving a trail of blood across the ice. Meeting his teammates the next morning, he held his first interview with one eye swollen shut, 40 stitches down his face and smiling as he told media and fans how excited he was to play for Carolina.
At this point one might wonder what he could possibly do to follow up that night’s performance. But that was just the way he played the game. He gave all he had every play, every shift, every game, leaving it all on the ice. In his prime, his bodychecks were bone-crushing, helmet-flying, glass-breaking momentum swings that could wake up a crowd or a team. He had a deceptively quick wrist shot off the rush, but spent most of his time battling along the boards or parked in front of the net, where he was particularly effective at screening the goalie and battling for rebounds. While he didn’t possess the elite skill set to completely take over a game, he always delivered an honest effort.
If his style of play wasn’t enough to make him a fan favorite, Ruutu’s personality sealed the deal. As affable off ice as he was hard-charging on ice, he was kind, genuine and enthusiastic whether dealing with teammates, media, or crazy requests from fans (I have many stories that I hope one day will make their way to the Digital Museum). The guy never had a bad day, even when riddled with pain or misfortune. One of the team’s darkest stretches came during the 14-game winless streak in 2009-10, and Ruutu was often called upon to be a voice in the locker room and with the media and he did so with great emotion. One of his proudest moments came when he was able to share his hometown with teammates and fans, serving as an unofficial ambassador when the team traveled to Helsinki for the Compuware Premiere series in 2010.
Ruutu’s heart has always been stronger than his body, and the wear and tear of his physical style, lingering injuries to his shoulders, hips, knees and ankles, and the weight of an expensive contract led to his trade to the New Jersey Devils at the trade deadline on March 5, 2014, where he currently resides with a reduced role in their lineup. But with Ruutu’s career as with life, it’s not about the destination, it’s about experiencing the journey, and I continue to carry his enthusiasm with me in the work that I do covering Hurricanes hockey.
Written by Jamie Kellner. You can find Jamie on Twitter=@jbkellner and her Canes photos at jamiekellner.smugmug.com.