Ruggiero limited to one period of action
TULSA, Okla. -- Angela Ruggiero was ready to play some hockey, and it didn't matter that she had to mix it up with the men.
Ruggiero became the first woman to make more than a token appearance at a position other than goalie in a U.S. men's professional hockey game, playing defense and getting an assist Friday night for the Tulsa Oilers.
"There was definitely a lot of contact, but it was all clean. That's hockey," she said. "It's a rough game."
Seconds after being checked on her third shift of the night, Ruggiero responded by slamming a Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees player into the boards. At 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, Ruggiero is known for doling out punishment in women's games, holding Harvard's single-season record for penalty minutes at 74.
Former USA goalie Erin Whitten skated for 18 seconds at forward for the Colonial League's Flint Generals in 1996.
Two-time Olympian Ruggiero and her brother, Bill, the goaltender for the Oilers, made hockey history as well as the first brother and sister to play together in a North American pro game.
Restless and sweating following 6:33 of play, Ruggiero said she didn't want to stop.
"I wish I could play the whole game and come back tomorrow," she said.
She got her wish at the start of the third period when both coaches and the Central Hockey League agreed to let her return to the ice with the Oilers leading 4-0. In her last shift, she fired a pass to Jason Bermingham, who scored to give the Oilers a 7-2 victory.
Ruggiero finished plus-2.
Although she was in the starting lineup, the CHL originally limited Ruggiero's playing time to the first period because she was an extra on the Oilers' roster.
Ruggiero said her nerves had settled by her second shift on the ice.
Ruggiero was cheered on by a crowd packed with young girls taking advantage of free tickets. A portion of the ticket receipts benefited the American Red Cross tsunami relief fund.
But this was no exhibition.
Friday night counted in the standings, and the victory kept the Oilers (22-15-3) three points out of first place in the league's Northeast Division.
"I think it's great for our momentum," said Oilers coach Butch Kaebel, who earlier said he had no reservations about signing Ruggiero for the one-time appearance. "Her resume speaks for itself."
The 25-year-old defenseman, who won gold and silver medals as a member of the 1998 and 2002 U.S. Women's Olympic teams, was the second woman to play in the league.
Whitten played four games in goal for the Dallas Freeze in 1993-94.
In 1992, Canada's Manon Rheaume made history as the first woman to play in the NHL when she tended goal for the Tampa Bay Lightning in a preseason game. Another Canadian, Hayley Wickenheiser, became the first woman to score in a men's game, getting a goal in the Finnish League in 2003. Barbara Zemann debuted at goalie for an Austrian team last year.
Ruggiero grew up playing hockey with boys, and in recent years honed her skills by joining her brother on summer league teams.
"I'm used to getting hit," she said, a bright and intact smile belying her participation in games she says are "a second quicker" and more physical than the women's sport.
She has never broken a bone or tooth playing hockey -- her own, anyway.
In her senior year in college, Ruggiero ranked eighth in the country in scoring with 25 goals and 30 assists for Harvard. But Friday night, she focused on traditional defense.
The tandem appearance with her brother was his idea after she skated with the team in practice during a December visit.
"There were years where we didn't even get the chance to see each other play because of our schedules," Bill Ruggiero said. "The chance to get to actually see each other and play on the same team together is so special."
When they were children in Simi Valley, Calif., their father at first signed up only Bill for youth hockey. But within a month, he was taking advantage of a family discount when Angela, and another sister, Pamela, also wanted to get on the ice.
Angela found her heroes on the Los Angeles Kings, rooting on Wayne Gretzky, Marty McSorley and Tony Granato.
"There were no women's players I knew of," she said. "I didn't even know women's hockey existed."
Before the game, Ruggiero said she's busy preparing for the next Olympics but hadn't given up the idea of pursuing appearances in other men's games.
She said Title IX, the federal law that bars sex discrimination in schools and education, and the Olympics had done much to advance women's hockey but she would prefer to play again in men's games.
"It always pushes you," she said.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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