Ruiz is "Mr. Consistency" for Hat Tricks

by Jim Cerny, Hat Tricks Insider

When it comes to consistent excellence, Jonny Ruiz is setting the standard for the Danbury Hat Tricks this season.

Ruiz has scored at least one point in 22 of Danbury’s 23 games. He opened the season with a career-high 16-game point streak, scoring 15 goals and 27 points in that stretch.

After failing to get his name on the scoresheet in a 5-1 win against the Port Huron Prowlers on Dec. 18, Ruiz has scored a point in six consecutive games (nine points; seven goals, two assists) ahead of a clash with the first-place Watertown Wolves on Thursday at Danbury Arena.

“I don’t really think too much about it,” Ruiz said. “If you play your game the right way, good things will happen. The points are coming, but my main thing is getting the wins. If I can contribute to a win, whether it’s on the scoresheet or blocking a shot or making another big play, that’s what I really look forward to. And when you take care of the little details, luck bounces your way; and I’ve been lucky this year.”

It’s likely not a coincidence that the wins have been there for the Hat Tricks this season just as the points have piled up for Ruiz. Danbury (15-6-2) won nine straight games from Nov. 27-Dec. 23 and is third in the league with a .623 points percentage.

Ruiz leads the Hat Tricks and is third in the FPHL with 22 goals. His 35 points are tied with forward Dmitry Kuznetsov for most on the team. He leads the league with seven power-play goals and 152 shots on goal.

“The thing that sticks out to me is his maturity, and that’s on and off the ice,” Hat Tricks general manager Billy McCreary said. “Jonny has the ability to make high-risk plays and make them work more often than not, but he’s really done a great job understanding the game, playing at both ends of the rink and picking his spots. He’s a bright kid and has really grown. I’m extremely impressed with him.”

Ruiz scored his 100th career point in exciting fashion in Danbury’s most recent game, a 5-4 come-from-behind overtime win against the Carolina Thunderbirds on Jan. 2, when he netted the game-tying goal with 20 seconds remaining in regulation.

“We rely on him for so many things, setting the proper example, work ethic, all of it,” McCreary said. “But we need him to score and to lead us offensively, too, and he sure does that.”

That the 27-year-old from south Jersey achieved the milestone point in his 85th FPHL game is impressive. That he puts up points at such a pace (career 1.2 points-per-game average) while being so diligent in his own end of the ice is even more impressive.

But that wasn’t always quite the case with Ruiz. During a solid rookie season in 2019-20, Ruiz was scratched by McCreary, then also the Hat Tricks coach, for a road game in Watertown because of lackluster defensive play. McCreary preached the importance of being a committed two-way player to the budding star.

And the message got through. So much so that Ruiz was named Hat Tricks captain this season.

“He wasn’t happy about it, but I felt that I had to put him in the stands for a game and we had a really long talk,” McCreary explains. “He could have scored 40 goals, but we needed him to lock down defensively. He took it to heart.”

Ruiz ended up with 25 goals and 49 points in 43 games before the season was shut down by the coronavirus pandemic. He finished tied for 10th in the league in goals. But what impressed his coaches and teammates was the change in his mindset about becoming a strong two-way player.

“He blew me away how he grew and adapted to professional hockey,” veteran defenseman Aaron Atwell said. “He came in and showed he could score, but he earned more ice time by adapting to all that is needed to be successful in the pro game."

“He thrives on responsibility and he earned it because he worked so hard at things off the puck, and he learned that by doing those things it opened up more scoring plays for him, too.”

Ruiz continued his growth last season, when he scored 16 points (10 goals, six assists) in 19 games with Elmira after Danbury opted out of a pandemic-shortened schedule. He was sidelined with COVID-19 at one point, which left him weakened even after his return to the lineup. But his commitment to improving his all-around game never wavered.

Atwell said he is impressed with where Ruiz is as a player today.

“I’d say he plays a bit wiser now, he’s figured a lot of things out,” Atwell said.  “Not everyone understands that by making the right plays defensively, that will lead to more chances and production at the other end. Jonny gets that.”

As for Ruiz, well to say that he doesn’t enjoy speaking about himself is an understatement. Especially if the conversation turns to his scoring exploits. He has bigger goals -- not just the ones that light the red lamp -- to chase.

“A point streak, thinking about scoring, that can be selfish at times,” Ruiz explained. “The focus needs to be on the right things, that’s what I’ve learned. Take care of your d-zone, make smart plays with the puck and away from the puck. And, yes, score points.

“But if I didn’t score another point this season and we kept winning and we won the championship, which is the only goal that matters, then I’d be happy.”