ORLANDO, Fla – Building a hockey roster is never an easy task when you have a base of players to work from. It’s even tougher when you have to construct it from scratch.
Tuesday afternoon, the Orlando Solar Bears took their first step to create an inaugural season roster by announcing that they had come to terms with forward Ryan Cruthers. Cruthers now has the honor of being the first member of a team that head coach Drake Berehowsky hopes will be a winner from day one.
“Ryan is an experienced player who will provide the Solar Bears with leadership on and off the ice,” Berehowsky said about Cruthers.
Saying that Cruthers brings experience to the table is an understatement.
As early as 2001, Cruthers was on a path to success. He was a member of the Eastern Junior Hockey League (EJHL) New York Apple Core junior team that won a championship. He also won a New York State title with St. Marys High School in his hometown of Farmingdale, NY.
When it came time to consider playing college hockey, Cruthers explained in a team-run Facebook question and answer session with fans that his family played a large part in his decision.
“It was after September 11th. That was around the time that I was really starting to pick and choose schools. As a kid we always went up to West Point and watched football games with my grandparents. I always loved going up there. It was a big theme in my family,” he said. “We always used to be up at West Point on the weekends. My dad was a high ranking New York City Police officer and my uncle and grandfather were NYC Firefighters so after Sept 11, I was in high school at the time, I decided I wanted to pursue the opportunity at Army.”
Cruthers began his college career at West Point and made an impact right away, winning the Heinmiller Award as the most outstanding freshman for his 18 points in 29 games. The following year he posted 16 points in 18 games.
Following his sophomore and before having to commit further, Cruthers made the decision to transfer away from West Point. He chose up-and-coming Division 1 Robert Morris University as his next stop. After sitting out the NCAA-mandated one year, he took his game to another level. Cruthers scored 17 goals and added 20 assists for 37 points but his best was still to come.
Cruthers’ senior season at Robert Morris was spectacular. He broke the 20-goal mark with 22 tallies and added27 assists to give him 49 points in 34 games. His play earned him College Hockey America’s Player of the Year honors and First Team selection, team MVP and best offensive player awards and third team All-American honors from Inside College Hockey. It was capped by a nomination for the Hobey Baker Award, the most prestigious award in college hockey. He graduated in 2008 with a Sports Management degree.
His first foray into pro hockey was a very short four game regular season and 15-game playoff tryout with the ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies in the spring of 2008. The following summer he signed a free agent contract with the Mississippi Sea Wolves for what would be a memorable rookie season. In 65 games with the Sea Wolves, he had 29 goals and 37 assists for 66 points and 72 penalty minutes. It earned him two separate stints in the AHL, five games with Lake Erie and four more with Albany.
The 2009-2010 season started for Cruthers with the CHL’s Texas Brahmas. He was there for four games before Reading came calling. Cruthers immediately became the main scoring threat, racking up 22 goals and 71 points in 60 games to lead the Royals. In the Kelly Cup playoffs, Cruthers connected for eight goals and 24 points in 16 post-season contests. Along the way, he got the call from the Norfolk Admirals, Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate, for eight games which yielded one point.
Cruthers continued to flourish in Reading in 2010-2011, notching another 22 goals and 35 assists in 51 games. His time in the ECHL was broken up by three trips to the AHL (Lake Erie, Manitoba and Hershey!) for a total of 15 games.
Last season was a tough one. The Royals were not a very good team and everyone’s numbers suffered. Team captain Cruthers saw his numbers drop to 11 goals and 39 points in 48 games. In an attempt to shake his team up, Reading coach Larry Courville traded Cruthers to the Alaska Aces late in the season. Cruthers had just three points in eleven games after the trade and only six points in ten playoff games for the Aces.
So how did Cruthers end up talking to Berehowsky and the Solar Bears? Last month he and his family were in the Orlando area while he attended the Professional Hockey Players Association as a rep. While he was here, Berehowsky was named head coach which got the player to thinking about playing in Central Florida. He contacted his agent and that started the wheels turning.
‘I had never met Drake before. Five to ten minutes after meeting him I was sold. I loved his passion, how he wanted to win and his vision for working in the Orlando community,” Cruthers said. “It’s everything that I believe in and have tried to do in the past on other teams. It just seemed like the right fit.”
Cruthers describes himself as being competitive, passionate, hard working and a leader. It is the exact same impression he left with fans and media members in Reading.
“He’s a very passionate person. He loves the game. He had some rough stretches last season in Reading where he wasn’t putting up the numbers he was expected to,” Candice Monhollan, who covered the Royals for a website dedicated to Boston Bruins farmhands, said. “He’s more than willing to throw his body around. He is definitely a leader, which I’m sure he’ll bring to Orlando.”
Given that the Solar Bears’ lineup will be a group that is learning how to play together as well as looking to develop and advance up the ladder, Cruthers knows that he will play an important role both on and off the ice.
“I think with the younger guys I can bring the experience of being in the league for so long, of being up in the American League, of knowing how to be successful day to day. I will be able to show them what they need to do to get to the next level,” he said. “(It will be) For myself too (because) I want to get back into the AHL. For my career for the ECHL, my main job is going to be to lead these guys because I want my teammates to have the same work ethic and same passion and to come to the rink everyday ready to compete.”
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