By Steve Robinson | April 5, 2010 - 10:39 pm
Posted in Category: Pekin Daily Times, Prairie Thunder

HockeyBLOOMINGTON – Cole Ruwe is, once again, playing hockey closer to his native Pekin.

Signed last summer by the Bloomington Prairie Thunder of the 7-team International Hockey League, Ruwe has been here all season contributing two goals and seven assists for nine points in the 66 games he has played this season.

Ruwe, who turned 25 April 2, has been sidelined a few games by an injury to his right ring finger earlier in the season, and a concussion that kept him off the ice for two days last month, all the while playing with a separated shoulder injury.

“(Playing in Bloomington) has been a fun experience,” Ruwe said. “There are a lot of older guys on this team that I have learned a ton from. To possibly make the playoffs and be on the first team this franchise has had make those playoffs, and hopefully keep the organization around, is really exciting.”

Ruwe’s professional career began playing six games toward the end of last season with the Wichita Thunder of the Central Hockey League. Wichita picked him up once they knew they would not qualify for playoffs, giving him a brief taste of a pro player’s life.

Cole RuweIn the short time Ruwe was with Wichita, his stats included one goal and six penalty minutes in a six-game span. His parents, Tim and Debbie Ruwe, Pekin, made the roughly 700 mile trip to see their son’s pro hockey debut. For Cole, scoring that goal in front of family and friends who made the journey makes that moment Ruwe’s “fondest hockey memory.”

“Now they’re coming up for every game, even if I’m not playing,” Ruwe said. He said that as a result of playing for Bloomington, his parents have been to more games of his than they attended when he played four years of college hockey at Nichols State.

Besides when he was lacing up his skates in peewee, high school, and junior hockey, Bloomington is the place closest to home for him to be seen by family and friends.

This season the Ruwes have made a much shorter trek – and more of them – since Prairie Thunder head coach Jarrod Skalde signed the 6 foot-2, 205 pound defenseman prior to the start of this season.

Prairie ThunderWhile he has been enjoying playing close to home, Ruwe has sat out four games this season due to injury – missing two games after breaking his right ring finger earlier in the season, and sitting out two after suffering a concussion last month.

Although he can’t remember the exact moment he first put a pair of skates on, Ruwe said he thinks he was “4 or 5, joining Pekin Little Stars,” because his brother had joined the team.”

From there, he played at all levels of youth hockey until his sophomore year at Pekin Community High School. At that point, he took a year off. But during that year’s hiatus, Ruwe said, “Taking that year off, I just couldn’t take it. I just got the itch. I couldn’t stay away.” He relieved that itch by playing for Pekin Community High School his junior year, and then, as a PCHS senior, joined the Peoria Mustangs of the Central State Hockey League, junior hockey’s tier 3 league. From the Mustangs, he went to play while attending Massachusetts-based Nichols College. He also received experience as a player with the Texarkana Bandits of the North American Hockey League, as an 18-year-old.

Perspective From Ruwe’s Coach: “Cole is a steady defenseman,” said Prairie Thunder head coach Jarrod Skalde. “I think he has gotten better and better as the year’s gone on. He can play (a) physical (game). He moves the puck well, but I just like how he simplifies his game, and he’s a steadying influence for our whole group.

“We’re going to be relying on him as we get down the stretch and into the playoffs,” Skalde said. ”He’s played in some key situations and he’ll continue to do so as we move along (into the playoffs).”

Skalde said he “would love to have Cole back next season.”

First Time In Playoffs For Bloomington: The stretch has arrived for Skalde’s team, as they have just six games left in the regular IHL season. Bloomington will spend all but one of those contests on the road it on the road. After visiting Quad City Thursday, Bloomington plays its regular season home finale against Port Huron Friday at U.S. Cellular Coliseum. Skalde’s crew return to Quad City Saturday. Next weekend starts with a game at Flint April 16, and two games in Port Huron April 17 and 18.

If IHL standings stay untouched when the season ends April 18, fourth place Bloomington (31-29-4, 72 points) would take on the first place Muskegon Lumberjacks (48-18-1, 100 points) in the opening round of the playoffs.

Skalde’s team finishes the season with a dismal 2-17 regular season record against Muskegon. Since maintaining fourth place, the Prairie Thunder have fended off each of the three remaining teams below them – Dayton, Quad City, and Flint – to hold their current position.

IHLBloomington did not achieve their first victory against Muskegon until Feb. 27 in a 4-2 road win. The Prairie Thunder’s first home win over the Lumberjacks came nearly three weeks later at U.S. Cellular Coliseum, a 4-1 victory.

The Prairie Thunder find themselves approaching the playoffs for the first time in their four year history. Their first season, 2006-07 spent in the United Hockey League, the past three with that same league rechristened the International Hockey League.

Bloomington began the season in October in first place, but a six-game losing skid that began later that month became something Skalde’s team couldn’t quite rebound upward from, leading to their holding the fourth place — the last playoff spot — for most of the season.

“I think it’s tough to solve a team like Muskegon (because) they’ve got so much firepower,” Ruwe said. “But the fact is, the veterans on this team are showing our new guys the way. It’s nice to have good leadership and we’re moving on all cylinders the whole game, shooting the puck from everywhere and it’s starting to pay off for us.”

Ice Chips: Regardless of how Muskegon finishes this season, it will be the Lumberjacks’ last as members of IHL. Operating costs have forced the team’s owners to transfer the team down to play in the United States Hockey League, a league for tier 1 junior hockey players….The Peoria Mustangs of tier 3 junior hockey’s Central States Hockey League, finished the season with a 12-33-3 record (27 points), finishing 10th in that 14-team league…Even after Muskegon departs IHL and barring further off-season expansion, the league will still be a 7-team league next season, welcoming a new team, the Evansville (Ind.) Icemen, next season. By joining IHL, the Icemen will be moving up a league from their being current members of the All-American Hockey League.