He typically doesn’t have to apologize for his crushing hits, but Tuomo Ruutu
was nothing but remorseful about the check from behind that has him serving a three-game suspension.
Ruutu has two more games to serve after the NHL handed down the verdict following his hit on Darcy Tucker during the Canes’ 5-4 loss to Colorado on Friday. Tucker suffered a concussion on the play and is out indefinitely.
“It probably was a bad hit by me, but in the end I don’t really worry about the suspension, I just worry about the guy,” said Ruutu after participating in Monday’s practice. “I wish I could get it back but I can’t, and I’m just happy nothing really serious happened.”
Ruutu said that he has since called Tucker to apologize.
“I talked to him and was glad to hear that he was doing better,” said Ruutu. “He was really good to me, and it makes me feel a little better.”
Although Ruutu has always been a hard hitter, the vast majority of his plays are clean, which makes the muttering from around the league about his “reputation” rather surprising. He can earn a minor penalty on occasion, but this incident marks the first instance of something more serious since he joined the Hurricanes in February of 2008.
“I think a big part of what he does is his physical play, but he’s also not a guy that spends a lot of time in the penalty box because of it,” said Coach Paul Maurice. “This isn’t a guy that headhunts or over the course of the year you have to sit him down and say ‘You’ve got to come off some of these hits.’ He doesn’t leave his feet. He’s just a hard hockey player to play against and he’s physically a very strong man.”
“I think that’s why I’m in the NHL,” said Ruutu of his rugged style. “I don’t think I’d be playing in the NHL (if I didn’t play that way), I’d be probably somewhere in Europe. That’s the way I play, and things just happen quickly.”
Maurice is now facing the challenge of having to play without both Ruutu and the already-missing Erik Cole for the next two games. Their simultaneous absence comes at an inopportune time for a team that has constantly been trying to forecheck more aggressively, an area in both of those players excel.
“Style-wise with our team you’ve got two bigger bodies that can skate (missing), so we look a little different than we’d like to,” said Maurice. “We lost Cole and Ruutu in the conference final last year, and it had an impact on the way our hockey team played.”
Even without those two, the coach is hoping that recent improvements to the team’s offense will continue. The team scored three or more goals twice in their recent three-game road trip, having only done so once in their previous seven contests.
“I think an overall confidence in the offensive game was sorely missing early in the year in the first five or six games, and I think it’s back in the last three,” he said. “We’re getting plenty of opportunities now and you’re hitting posts and things like that, but it’s good to see because you know you’re just around the corner from it.”
Even with those improvements, Maurice acknowledged that the team needs to allow fewer goals, which he believes is a product of spending so much time shorthanded. Discipline was a heavy focus at Monday’s practice, with the entire group having to skate the length of the ice twice if the coaches spotted an infraction during various drills.
“We can blame other people for it, but we’re responsible for our sticks and we’re responsible for where we’re at,” said Maurice.