Emma Ruggiero pulled a double shift Tuesday night at Northtown Center. While the Kenmore/Grand Island girls hockey team put the finishing touches on a shutout victory in the Section VI quarterfinals, Ruggiero left her post from behind the bench, changed out of her coaching sweater and dress boots into skates, pads and a practice jersey, and hustled across the hallway to an adjacent rink to hit the ice with her Buffalo Beauts teammates.
A Sacred Heart Academy graduate who played for the Monsignor Martin team in the early days of the WNY Federation, as well as the Buffalo Regals travel organization and Buffalo State College, Ruggiero wasn’t always sure she had the temperament for coaching.
“I thought it would be so hard to be on the bench and not able to go out on the ice and help my team,” she said.
Ruggiero has caught the coaching bug, however, before her playing career has finished. A rookie forward for the local National Women’s Hockey League franchise, Ruggiero also is in her first season as an assistant coach for Kenmore/GI.
Playing professional hockey requires Ruggiero practice twice weekly and play a pair of games most weekends. Coaching commitments bring Ruggiero back to the rink up to six days a week. She balances the ice time with a manager’s job at IHOP and graduate school at Buffalo State.
“I don’t have a lot of down time, that’s for sure,” she said. “My work has been great about letting me miss time for hockey. I love that I’m able to still play in my hometown. And I never thought I would love coaching as much as I do. It’s definitely become one of the highlights of my week.”
Ruggiero was a standout player for Buffalo State, recording 52 points in 100 career games. She led the Bengals in scoring as a senior with 24 points (14 goals, 10 assists) and was named to the All-Northeast Women’s Hockey League second team.
“It’s been so amazing to have a female role model so close to us that we can look up to,” Grand Island senior Abigail Blair said. “Someone who has played at such a high level and is involved with growing the women’s game, we can really learn a lot from her.”
Blair, who will play Division I hockey for St. Anselm College next year, was inspired by Ruggiero’s quick line change from coach to player on Tuesday.
“She’s showing us how to work hard,” Blair said. “She’s going right from our bench into practice to perfect her craft. It shows us determination and love for the sport.”
Jeff Orlowski, the Ken/GI head coach, said Ruggiero “has been fantastic to have around.”
“When she talks, the players are dead silent,” Orlowski said. “They respect what she has to say so much, what she can demonstrate from playing college hockey and now with the Beauts. She’s really good at the X’s and O’s, the fundamentals. She knows every detail.”
Orlowski hopes to see more former Fed players behind the bench in the coming years.
“It’s really great to see the young women want to come back,” he said. “It’s been really helpful to have a younger female role model for these girls. I’d love to see all the teams have somebody who played come back and coach.
“To see women coaching other women is huge. I’d give it up to let them take over, because it’s important for the girls to have role models in these positions.”
Orlowski reached a milestone in Kenmore/GI’s 5-0 win against Hamburg/Eden/West Seneca, becoming the first to coach 200 wins in Fed history.
Players gave Orlowski a cake to celebrate the milestone and made signs reading “Way to go Coach O,” and “Congrats on 200 starts” that hung on the glass behind the Ken/GI bench.
Ana Orzechowski, a Ken/GI alumna now playing or the Beauts, hung around to hug Orlowski before her practice.
“Congratulations,” Williamsville coach and Section VI chairman Rick Hopkins told Orlowski, before adding, “here’s to 200 more.”
Orlowski and Hopkins are the only coaches who have been with their teams for each of the 10 seasons in Fed history.
Hopkins, whose Williamsville team won the Fed title last week, coached in his 197th game during Tuesday’s 9-1 quarterfinal win over Niagara County. He can reach the 200-game milestone if Williamsville wins its final two Section VI playoff games and returns to Lake Placid to defend its 2019 state title.
“Rick Hopkins deserves more credit than I do,” Orlowski said. “Over the course of the 10 years, he’s had the best teams. And if there’s any coach in this league who has been all about the players, it’s him. I can’t say enough nice things about him.”
Tomorrow Thursday at @NorthTownCenter 2020 Girls Section VI Semifinals. $5 Adult Admission for Semi's and Finals game at Cornerstone Monday. It's the only time all season you have to pay. Please fill the stands and not the Bar. 🏒 not 🍺@bufnewspreptalk @WNYAthletics @cpdesi1 pic.twitter.com/wkGQINMDh2
— WNY Girls Ice Hockey (@WNYGirlsHockey) January 29, 2020
The WNYGVIHF announced its All-Federation teams prior to the start of last week’s playoffs.
First team — F-Jersey Phillips (LID), F-Emma Roland (Williamsville), F-Mary Kromer (FLOP), D-Brooke Becker (FLOP), D-Abigail Blair (Ken/GI), G-Dylan Gorski.
Second team — F-Lara Beecher (MMHSAA), F-Morganne Dee (LID), F-Natalie O’Brien (NiCo), D-Lilli Adimey (CASH), D-Mia Boyd (MMHSAA), G-Mia Wendell (Williamsville).
Third team — F-Allison Greene (CASH), F-Riley Malicki (MMHSAA), F-Jenna Cavalieri (Williamsville), D-Kayla Persinger (NiCo), D-Erin Roland (Williamsville), G-Sophia Will (MMHSAA).
Becker and Phillips, who rank fifth and sixth, respectively, on the Fed’s all-time scoring list, shared the player of the year award. LID’s Kevin Miller was named coach of the year.
Ken-Ton athletic director Brett Banker was given the Dr. James Rusin Award in tribute to the late Williamsville AD who was instrumental in forming the Fed.
“Brett has been dedicated to girls hockey,” Orlowski said. “Him and Dr. Rusin formed this league basically. They brought everyone together. And he’s been nothing but supportive for anything we’ve ever asked for. He’s been a pillar in this sport.