M. HOCKEY | Playing puck under palm trees

Trent Ruffolo '15 and Connor Wilson '15 are the first hockey players from their states to play at Yale.
Trent Ruffolo '15 and Connor Wilson '15 are the first hockey players from their states to play at Yale. Photo by Henry Ehrenberg.

Trent Ruffolo ’15 and Connor Wilson ’15 are two of the hockey team’s most promising young players. But unlike most of their competition in the ECAC, Ruffolo and Wilson learned to play hockey beneath palm trees and sunshine.

The two freshmen both hail from below the Mason-Dixon line and represent geographical oddities on the hockey team. Ruffolo was born in Coral Springs, Fla. and Wilson in Cary, N.C. Each player is the first from his respective state to play hockey at Yale.

While both come from warm-weather states, the two players’ experiences with hockey have been quite different. Ruffolo started playing when he was six and stuck to the sport, eschewing baseball among other sports for his love of the ice. Wilson, on the other hand, waited until he was eight to play hockey and continued to play other sports more traditionally associated with warm weather.

“I tried to quit hockey for golf one time, but I wasn’t a good enough golfer,” Wilson jokingly said.

But one thing the two players had in common was their source of inspiration. Both claim that the NHL teams in their respective states influenced them to play hockey, offering an interesting perspective on the debate concerning the merits of the NHL’s expansion efforts.

“When the Hurricanes moved to Raleigh, N.C. was when youth hockey programs started popping up and more ice rinks began opening,” Wilson said. “I started playing right after they moved to Raleigh.”

Ruffolo told a similar story, saying that he told his parents he wanted to play hockey after watching the Florida Panthers play for the first time in Sunrise, Fla.

Ruffolo and Wilson both reached college hockey despite a lack of competition and resrouces in their home states. Wilson claims that he was one of only a few well-known goalies in the Carolinas and Ruffolo agreed that the competition in Florida was subpar.

“There’s not a lack of hockey players in Florida,” Ruffolo said. “Just the caliber of players is not very competitive, at least when you get older.”

Like most college hockey prospects, Ruffolo and Wilson were forced to move to Northern states in order to gain the attention of college programs. For his first three years of high school, Wilson moved to Sheffield, Mass. to play at Berkshire, a boarding school, followed by a move to Chicago to play in the United States Hockey League for two years. Ruffolo played in Florida until his senior year of high school and then moved to New Hampshire for two years to play in the Eastern Junior Hockey League.

“I think at first I was a little overwhelmed by moving,” Ruffolo said. “It was a culture shock and everything was completely different from what I was used to. I think the hockey itself was a little bit of a shock at first, but it’s like everything — you just get used to it.”

Ruffolo has played in five games for the Bulldogs and has contributed two goals and an assist since New Year’s Day. His recent emergence includes a go-ahead goal against Princeton last Saturday that broke a 1–1 tie. Wilson has only seen action in the team’s two scrimmages this season but promises to be an integral part of Yale hockey in the future.

“Connor is a great kid to have in the locker room,” goalie Jeff Malcolm ’13 said. Everyone likes him, he has a great personality and he works hard in practice. He’s fun to watch, he’s very athletic and a great all around kid to have.”

Cornell’s Brian Ferlin is a former opponent of Ruffolo’s in Florida and another testament to the growth of hockey in Southern states. The freshman forward is currently tied for third in the nation in points per game among rookies and tallied a goal and two assists against Yale earlier this season.

Both Ruffolo and Wilson expect hockey to continue to grow at a rapid pace in Florida and North Carolina. As recently as 2007 there were only five college hockey players from Florida and two from North Carolina. Ruffolo and Wilson are part of a trend that has certainly seen those numbers rise in the past four years, and Ruffolo thinks that the best is yet to come.

“Right now, there are a lot of really good kids in Florida that I know of, just in the area I’m from,” Ruffolo said. “The youth levels are getting a lot better than what they are stereotyped as.”

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