Bowling Green lost the opening game of the Jamie Ruffner Memorial Tournament, 4-1, to Hunting Valley University School Friday at Bowling Green State University’s Slater Family Ice Arena.
BG coach Connor Rogowski is still celebrating, not the loss, but the opportunity to honor his mentor, the late Jamie Ruffner.
Rogowski was the associate head coach while Ruffner, BG’s head coach, passed away last January from cancer.
Ruffner was the driving force behind getting hockey going again after the program, once a perennial state powerhouse, took a year off in 2018-19. But Ruffner’s impact on BG hockey, for all ages, is well known.
Rogowski played for Ruffner during his youth “pee wee” days before coaching with him in high school.
“Then he got the job here and he brought me on as an assistant,” Rogowski said. “He’s been a pivotal part in why I coach and what I do and the motivation behind it.
“I learned a lot from him. We are extremely excited that we can honor his memory now with this tournament. Out of anything, that’s what means the most out of this weekend is honoring him, keeping that alive.”
Rogowski and those around him are continuing what Ruffner started, and that includes a junior varsity team for the first time since the restart of the program.
You can tell by just coming to the game that everyone involved is more organized and has a better handle on the program.
Before the game Friday, Jamie’s wife Jessica Ruffner along with daughters Wynn, Reese, and Addie Ruffner were brought to the ice for the ceremonial puck drop.
“On top of being a great husband and father to these wonderful ladies, Jamie’s second family was always hockey. Jamie spent most of his life either playing or coaching the game he loved,” the public address announcer said.
Ruffner, whose No. 14 jersey still hangs at the entrance of the Bobcats’ locker room door, played for Bowling Green, graduating in 1989. That is where “his love for the game began,” the announcer said.
The announcer, a BGHS parent, continued, “After college Jamie spent nearly the next 20 years of his life teaching and coaching the game that once taught him so much.
“Jamie was an important piece in the success and driving our youth hockey association and teams in the right direction and shaping these boys into young men.
“After serving so long, Jamie’s coaching career came full circle when he was asked to take over his beloved Bobcat hockey program. Jamie did an outstanding job bringing Bobcat hockey back to life and showing the importance of why we have it and what it means to be a part of it.”
In 2021, Ruffner was named the National Federation of High School Sports Coach of the Year “for his selfless contributions to coaching the youth and high school programs in the Bowling Green hockey community.”
Bowling Green dropped to 2-2-1 with the loss to University School, another storied hockey program with multiple state tournament appearances.
BG has 19 state final four appearances, six state runners-up trophies and six state championship trophies, and that doesn’t include state championships won before the Ohio High School Athletic Association sanctioned hockey.
University School has 15 state final four appearances, three state runner-up trophies and two state championships.
When BG hit the ice Friday afternoon, the Bobcats had six players missing, University School had just three.
The Preppers outshot the Bobcats, 33-8, but junior goalie Matthew Brinkman had 29 saves and the Bobcats and Preppers played to a scoreless tie in the third period. Rogowski equated the effort to what Ruffner would have wanted.
“They are one of the top teams in Cleveland (area),” Rogowski said. “We knew it was going to be a hard game. Obviously, we came in today facing some adversity.
“First of all, we were already out four of our better players, and we lose one to injury and one to a penalty during the game, and just like that you are kind of faced with it,” Rogowski continued.
“I think we did a really good job of showing the heart we had because the game could have been 8-1, 9-1, and we fought, we tied the last period (0-0), and we kept grinding.
“I think that’s what exemplifies our team, and I think that’s what exemplified Jamie — how he played, how he coached, and we showed that today. We showed we have heart.
“When adversity happens, we are not just going to lay down. We are going to keep fighting, we are going to keep pushing through, and we are going to find a way, and that is what we did. The outcome of the score isn’t what we wanted, but it’s not about that.”
BG’s lone goal came on a 30-foot slapshot by junior defenseman Casey Moore, assisted by junior forward Noah Cope.
For the Preppers, Will Genovese and Sam Wade scored two goals apiece, Anthony Messina had two assists and Genovese, Wade, Kellen McGarry and Luke Palmer had one assist each.
Rogowski firmly believes that if the Bobcats get another shot at the Preppers this year, it could be a different result.
“We had six freshmen playing numbers that they don’t normally play, and that’s great,’ Rogowski said.
“We know we have a team that we are shaping into being better, and we showed that today. When we are all healthy, hopefully we’ll get a good run at them sometime later in the year.”
Bowling Green had two more pool play games remaining on Saturday against Shaker Heights and Meadville (Pennsylvania) with the championship round scheduled for Sunday.
Other teams include Findlay and St. Thomas of Villanova (California). The Ruffner Memorial replaces the Turkey Trot previously hosted by BG and Findlay high schools during Thanksgiving weekend.