Tyler Ruegsegger has impressed Heat head coach Troy Ward with his work ethic.

Tyler Ruegsegger has impressed Heat head coach Troy Ward with his work ethic.

Ruegsegger, Olson are Heat’s ultimate warriors

The routes that Tyler Ruegsegger and Brett Olson took this season to make an impact with the Abbotsford Heat are remarkably similar.

The routes that Tyler Ruegsegger and Brett Olson took this season to make an impact with the Abbotsford Heat are remarkably similar.

Both forwards came into training camp last fall on a tryout basis, long shots to make the team given the Heat’s depth up front with the NHL lockout in full swing.

But both defied the odds, cracking the roster and carving out similar roles as consistent, versatile forwards who can slot in anywhere in head coach Troy Ward’s lineup.

“They’ve really given us a lot of consistency within our lines, with all the call-ups and injuries,” Ward said of Ruegsegger and Olson. “Both of them are moveable parts. They can play left wing, they can play right wing, they can play up and down the lineup, they can play a skill game, they can play a checking role.”

Taking a step back, Ruegsegger and Olson’s big-picture journeys in their hockey careers also bear striking similarities.

Both hail from south of the border, and both played their college hockey in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) – Ruegsegger, from Lakewood, Col., was a member of the University of Denver Pioneers, while Olson, a Superior, Wis. native, suited up for the Michigan Tech Huskies.

“I remember Tyler really well,” chuckled Olson, whose freshman and sophomore seasons overlapped with Ruegsegger’s junior and senior years.  “He was one of those guys we had to have a good scouting report on. He was kind of a utility guy. He could do everything – power play, penalty kill, four-on-four, whatever it might be.”

The two former foes crossed paths again in August 2012 at a summer scrimmage in Minneapolis, Minn., and discovered they were both set to attend Heat camp in September. They ended up rooming together during camp, and they’re also roommates on the road.

Both players have also persisted through injuries at critical junctures in their hockey careers.

Ruegsegger has been around the Heat for a while now – he suited up for 12 games in 2010-11 and four more in 2011-12.

He was initially a professional tryout (PTO) guy, summoned from the ECHL to fill in with the Heat as an injury replacement. But last year, he seemed to be establishing himself with the club – he earned an AHL contract in March that would take him through to the end of the season.

But shortly after putting pen to paper on that contract, he suffered a gruesome injury during practice. On a five-on-zero power-play drill, he took a Clay Wilson slap shot to the face. It ended his season.

“My face was basically like spiderweb-cracked glass,” he said. “I had to have surgery on my mouth and all sorts of dental work done. It was not one of my happier moments.

“It was frustrating, no doubt,” added Ruegsegger, who has eight goals and six assists in 61 games with the Heat this season. “But I believe there’s a plan in it. You’ve just got to deal with it, and it makes you a better person and a better player in the long run.”

Olson, too, had to survive injury issues that could have sidetracked him.

In his final year of junior hockey with the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks, he suffered a severe shoulder separation that kept him out of the lineup during the early portion of the season, which is the peak of college recruiting. Nevertheless, he returned and played well, and managed to land a scholarship from Michigan Tech.

Olson became a key contributor with the Huskies, but a series of unfortunate events during his third year threatened to torpedo his pro stock. On a five-on-three penalty kill, he shattered his left hand blocking a shot. And three weeks after returning, he tore the MCL in his right knee.

But Olson came back strong his senior season, captaining the Huskies and leading the team in scoring with 10 goals and 20 assists in 39 games. Calgary Flames assistant GM John Weisbrod liked what he saw and extended an invite to Abbotsford’s training camp, and Olson made the most of the opportunity.

“With any sport that you play, there are things you can control and things you can’t control,” reasoned Olson, who has eight goals and 10 assists in 65 games this season.

“If you can have the ability know the difference and put those things aside and not really worry about the things you can’t control, you can really get back in a good mindset. If they let them hinder you, they can end your career, just mentally mess you up for however long. It’s almost a self-preservation thing to put them behind you.”

The paths they’ve traveled have been similar, and Ward notices further parallels in Ruegsegger and Olson’s personalities.

“They’re both really honest players,” he explained. “They very rarely show up with any regrets.

“A lot of people show up in life with regretful days, but these are two players who, whether it’s on-ice or off-ice, they don’t have many.”

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