Chays Ruddy has been blocking shots, fighting and helping solidify the Komets' sixth-ranked defense. He's the type of gritty, blue-collar player fans at Memorial Coliseum love to watch.
But getting to this stage hasn't been easy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc with the careers of many young hockey players, and Ruddy, a rookie blue-liner, has had to navigate more than most. He went 21 months without playing a game; wasn't on the ice at all for over seven months; endured a broken foot; had to shed about 35 pounds; and then had to readjust to a type of hockey he hadn't participated in since the spring of 2018.
Ruddy's most recent game, Friday's 1-0 victory over the Iowa Heartlanders at the Coliseum, may have been his best so far for the Komets. He had a bevy of shot blocks, including two in succession on Shane Kuzmeski from point-blank range in the third period, to preserve Bailey Brkin's 14-save shutout.
“(Ruddy) knows what type of player he is. He plays to all his strengths. He keeps it simple, keeps the puck going north,” Komets coach Ben Boudreau said. “He's tough to play against. He was great clearing the front of the net, whether it was blocking shots or leaving no second chances. ... When somebody knows their identity and plays within it, he can be very successful in any position.
“What you see is a young rookie, finding out what type of player he can be and how effective he can be when he's at the top of his game.”
Ruddy, 24, has three assists and 37 penalty minutes in 20 games with Fort Wayne. He knows a big part of his role with the Komets is to provide a physical presence but more than anything he's embraced the defensive obligations.
“I've just always prided myself on being responsible in my own end and on the penalty kill,” Ruddy said, “so I feel like my bread and butter as a player is just kind of taking pride in the goals that we don't allow, rather than the goals that I'm involved with (at the other end).”
The Komets (16-7-3), who are on a 6-1-1 run, play host to the Toledo Walleye (17-6-2) at 7:30 p.m. today at the Coliseum.
Ruddy, 6-foot-3, 218 pounds, was a formidable player in juniors, totaling 14 assists and 95 penalty minutes in 57 games for the British Columbia Hockey League's Prince George Spruce Kings in 2017-18. He helped them to the BCHL finals with one goal, six points and 30 penalty minutes in 24 playoff games.
He skated for the University of Windsor from 2018 to 2020 – he had two goals, nine points and 92 penalty minutes in 47 games – but the college hockey style didn't always jibe with him. For example, a fight brought an automatic suspension, and he got one as a freshman for brawling with two opponents during the same stoppage.
“That was my wake-up call, to get a four-game suspension in a 28-game season,” said Ruddy, who looked forward to being able to resume his antagonistic style when he got the pros.
That path was altered by the pandemic, which shut down hockey in the spring of 2020, and bad luck. He had to recover from the broken foot, caused by a stepping on a slippery rock at a lake in July 2020. And he ballooned to 253 pounds because of the injury, a lack of places to skate and not having the proper workout equipment while quarantining in Cobourg, Ontario.
After slimming back down, he returned to Windsor this season but realized it was no longer “going to be a good fit,” so he signed Nov. 4 with the Komets, who had opened training camp 31/2 weeks beforehand. Ruddy was eager to assume the role of enforcer, but he knew it would be challenging after not playing with the glove-dropping mentality for 31/2 years.
“I was pretty nervous for the first (fight with Wheeling's Josh Victor on Nov. 14). You can play around with your buddies in scrimmages and in practice to try and get a grasp on the style and locking a guy up, but it's definitely not the same as going against a guy who's actually trying to kill you,” Ruddy said.
“The first one I was pretty nervous for, but once I got that one out of the way I was more comfortable – or as comfortable as you can feel going in to punch somebody in the face or get punched in the face.”
Notes: Zach Pochiro, who had 14 goals and 29 points in 32 games last season, has re-signed with the Komets. Pochiro had retired Oct. 8. Pochiro, 27, had one assist in six games during the playoffs as the Komets won the Kelly Cup. ... Defenseman Blake Siebenaler was released by Ontario of the American Hockey League and is rejoining the Komets. ... Defenseman D.J. King broke his leg in Friday's game, the Komets confirmed, and is likely done for the season.
vs. Toledo Walleye
When: 7:30 p.m. today
Where: Memorial Coliseum
Radio: 1190 AM, 107.5 FM