As far as first days on the job go, Tuomo Ruutu sure had a memorable one for the Hurricanes.
On Tuesday morning, he was taken off the ice during Chicago’s practice and told he had been traded to Carolina. A delayed flight and a police escort later, he arrived at the RBCCenter at approximately – just 10 minutes before the Hurricanes dropped the puck against the New Jersey Devils.
That would have been hectic enough for most people, but Ruutu’s day wasn’t done. Late in the third period, he took a stick to the face from the Devils’ Patrik Elias and needed 40 stitches to close deep cuts above his left eye and down the front of his nose.
The injury actually looked a bit worse than expected the next morning, as he was sporting a completely swollen-shut left eye to go along with his already rough appearance.
What may have been even more unexpected, however, was the constant smile he was showing throughout his introduction to the media during Wednesday’s practice. A miserable experience for most people, Ruutu, clearly happy to be a Hurricane, took it all in stride.
“I was just thinking about it at the end of the day when the doctors were stitching me,” he recalled. “I didn’t really expect to be in Carolina being stitched at the end of the day when I woke up that morning.”
“Welcome to Carolina,” added the beaming, one-eyed Finnish Frankenstein of sorts.
Even behind all the black, blue and purple on his face, it was easy to see the enthusiasm that Ruutu has for his new surroundings. He’s right back in the thick of things, as he’s gone from a team eight points out of a playoff spot to a team leading its division and playing some of its best hockey of the season down the stretch.
”He’s in great spirits and seems like he’s happy to be here, and we’re certainly happy to have him,” said coach Peter Laviolette.
Ruutu, who was unable to practice on Wednesday and appears doubtful for tomorrow night’s game against the Rangers, didn’t get a chance to formally meet most of his teammates until the morning after his debut. He still fit right in on the ice, picking up an assist on Carolina’s first goal and throwing a few huge hits that livened up both the crowd and his teammates alike.
So much for an adjustment period.
”He was an impact player from the time he took the ice,” said Laviolette. “He literally, when we were walking out to take the ice for the puck to drop he was just putting on the last piece of equipment and jumped on the bench, took one lap around the ice and that was it. No time on a bike, no time to stretch, it was that quick. He did a super job.”
What Laviolette didn’t know is that Ruutu actually got some lunges in on the plane ride from Chicago. As for learning the Hurricanes system and style of play?
”I went through the forecheck and stuff like that in the backseat of a cop car with Ron Francis,” said Ruutu of his ride from RDU. “It was kind of funny.”
Ruutu will be hoping to emulate the success of another Chicago transplant, Sergei Samsonov. After putting up only four assists in 23 games with the Blackhawks, the Russian winger scored both goals in Carolina’s 2-1 victory over the Devils and now has 18 points in 22 games with the Canes.
Even though those two players didn’t get to spend but a few months together in Chicago, Samsonov still knows enough to expect more of what he saw during Ruutu’s first game in Carolina.
“That’s his game, I don’t think he was playing out of character,” said Samsonov. “That’s what he does every game, he goes out there and bangs bodies and makes room for the other players. He’s a good energy guy who never quits.”
If the enthusiasm Ruutu showed on Wednesday, gruesome injury and all, continues in the future, Canes fans should expect to see plenty more of that themselves.