Thomas Ruiz is an opinionated guy. Some people love it. Others, well let’s just say they don’t share all of his views. One thing nobody can deny about this Team USA player – he loves this game…
Thanks for agreeing to talk with us, Tom. Tell me, where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in Washington Township, NJ. I grew up in Williamstown, NJ. And am currently living in Blackwood, NJ.
When did you first start playing hockey or street hockey? Do you play ice as well? Who introduced you to the game?
I started playing street hockey my last year of beaver. I did play ice hockey I started in 8th grade. That was a rough year. But made varsity my freshman year so I picked it up fairly quick.
When did you get involved in the competitive side of street hockey? What was the first championship you ever won?
I am always competitive with everything that I do. So my first year of hockey I wanted to win right away and get into the competitive side of the sports by entering tournaments. I won my first championship my second year of playing.
When did you realize you were getting pretty good at the game? Who helped you improve as a player and how?
I honestly always knew I had talent and was very cocky early on in my life. Over the years I have learned to adjust from cocky to confident. My father has always coached me and he has helped me be more hockey smart than anything else. But the ability to stay in shape and the heart and will to win I was born with.
What was your best hockey memory growing up?
My best hockey memory happened a couple years ago in Barrie, Ontario. I was playing for George Tarantino. We were down 2-0 in the third to the Gods in the semi finals. I had an assist with 5 mins left. I scored to tie the game with less than a minute left in the game. Then scored the first shift in overtime to win it. I never experienced a feeling quite like that since. I make sure I remind Corey of that day every time I see him. So feel free to forward this part of the interview to him just to make sure he remembers 😀
What is one of the worst losses you ever experienced? How did you learn from that?
My worse loss happened 3 years ago in Harrisburg. We were up 4-1 on Buffalo Fusion going into the third period. I prefer not to go into details but our team didn’t stick together, and we gave up 4 goals in the third. That is when I realized how important it was to stay loose on the bench and never lose the fun aspect of the game. We have obviously lost since then but not that way.
Who introduced you to street hockey? What made you fall in love with the game?
I have always loved playing hockey out front of my house. My aunt Mary Sullivan owns the Penn Hills rink. My cousin Billy Sullivan played at a real young age. I joined Monroe Townships League as soon as I realized South New Jersey had street hockey. Just the physical play and the constant movement. Much more exciting to play then baseball and soccer. And I get hurt too much as it is so football was out.
Are you close with your cousin Billy Sullivan? What are your thoughts of him and what he is doing with Penn Hills and the rink and his Arsenal program?
I am incredibly close to Billy Sullivan. So much so, that both he and Jonny will be splitting the duties of best man at my wedding this coming August. He is doing big things over there in Penn Hills. If you have ever been there you would see that the place is like an old fashioned rink. A lot of it has been the same since it has been open. Hell, my aunts hair has even been the same since it has opened. Billy is bringing the place up to date. He is doing some big time advertising over there. He is the right man for the job. I am looking forward to some battles between Arsenal and Supreme in the near future.
What is it about this sport that you think makes people take it so seriously and be so passionate about it?
Because our sport is made up from both athletes in top condition and people that look like a fat mess and somehow are still incredibly talented and quick. Freaks of nature really. You combine a bunch of different personalities, a variety of skill and body types, plus not to mention a mans pride that kicks in, and you really are in for a good game almost every time top teams play. That’s why people love it so much.
How did you get good enough to be recognized as a potential Team USA player? Did you spend a lot of time practicing or playing in leagues and tourneys? Both?
As a kid I was always faster than everyone else so I was able to be a top player in rec leagues. As I got older I realized people have caught up and are now faster than I am and I had to adjust and work on my skills. I do not have the greatest hands or a great shot; my hockey skills are good but not great. Ice hockey really helped with my hockey smarts. So a combination of my father and ice hockey really has given me an advantage with knowing the game. My last year at the freshman level I was told I had a chance to make the World Junior Team. [Head Coach at that time] Mark Madden made a decision I did not agree with and I was left off. Instead of doing what most people do and look to blame politics or anything else, I chose to use it as a tool to get better. So I thank Mr. Madden for leaving me off. I am always playing in every tourney I can possibly make. And I’m always trying to improve.
Please describe the story of how you got on your first Team USA squad. What was that experience like for you?
Bobby Housser first saw me play in Barrie (the game against the Gods). He liked playing with me. I then followed it up with some good tournaments up in Leominster and got Chris Housser’s attention. The Tom Ruiz haters around here will tell you [I made Team USA] because I kiss Bobby Housser’s ass. But last I checked quite a few of Bobby’s close friends have been left off. So people can continue talking; I’ll continue to get better. Worlds was a fantastic time. The split [WBHF/ISBHF] made it less special. My new goal is to make the team when we as a country figure this nonsense out and it goes back to one.
How many Team USA squads have you been a member of?
Just the one worlds. That has been it.
A lot of people have complained about the politics of this sport, and you’ve mentioned it a couple times now so let me ask you, what are your thoughts on the split and why it happened? What do you think it means for the sport here in the US?
As far as why we are split of how it got that way I don’t care. I do think that the split in the short term helped the sport grow a bit. With 2 teams, despite the fact that it sucks, it has given more people the opportunity to represent our country. People are getting better and trying harder figuring there is more of a chance to make it. But let’s face it, we could have 30 world teams and the special feeling of representing your country would slip away because everyone will be on a USA team.
Do you think politics will become a thing of the past in our sport or do you think that will always have a place in sports regardless of whether its street hockey or badminton or water polo?
Politics are no different than cancer. It can take over anyone and there is nothing anyone can do about it. But I like [the guys in charge in our sport]. Everyone of them love and care about the sport.
Why do you think there is nothing anyone can do about politics? Don’t you think that good people in the right positions can overcome the politics of the sport?
Politics can be controlled but not completely cured. Picking the correct people for each job controls politics. But when one kind of politics are controlled there usually is a new one brewing. It’s just the world we live in today.
People have said the USA will never win gold with the two organizations because the talent is divided and talent is what wins. Do you believe that?
I don’t agree that either side will not win gold separately. But instead of real 24 carat gold it will be more like chocolate wrapped in gold foil. Its meaningless. It will be just like winning another hockey tournament.
What do you think most American players care about when it comes to the national teams and competing? Some have said that the players just want to wear their country colors and don’t care whether its the USDHF or ASHI. But do you side with those who think the players want the best chance to win and want unification?
For the players its all about competing with the best. If you beat the best you are the best. Whether it is our strongest team or not. There is so much talent that multiple combination of guys on teams can win. Claude Giroux got left off team Canada. If he makes it last year does Canada still win? Absolutely. Everyone can’t get their way. It is impossible to take every person that deserves to play on team USA. We would Have 12 lines of offense and about 20 defensemen. I’d prefer not to make the team if it gives the USA a better chance to win with one team. I will use missing out again just to get better.
Do you think ASHI is doing the right thing by having tryouts for the teams or do you think the old method of invite only should be used?
I think the tryout system is fantastic. Invite only should be just so you can get the people that you want to tryout. This way you don’t run into a situation of a guy that say hasn’t played ball hockey in a whole year and makes the team based on his name or who he is. Who is to say that guy didn’t digress over the year. I have both gotten much better in a year’s time before and also I’ve gotten much worse in a year’s time. If you can avoid that than the tryout system is fantastic.
What are your thoughts on younger brother Jonny Ruiz making the U20 Team USA squad and being named captain?
I am so very proud of my brother. He’s obviously got the talent but I’m incredibly impressed with how he’s maturing as an adult. I will be rooting for him and Team USA all the way!
What do you think of the current tournaments out there and how they are run? How can they be improved and what is good about them as they are?
I was a little worried there for a while with these tournaments. The prices were going up and the games were getting shorter. But it has calmed down a little. I love playing in Canada. Every Canadian tournament I have played in are ran great. As far as the US tournaments, my favorite tourney to play in hands down is Harrisburg. George Tarantino runs a great one. It’s the same every year. Top USA teams and it really shows who is going to be dominant for that year. Now I just need to solve the mystery in beating those Leominster guys. Its hard to win one but 4 in a row really shows that they are the elite area for top talent in our sport.
Talent wise, in the sport today, would you say that defense/goaltending is better than the offensive skill or is offense better than the defense on most teams?
I don’t care what anyone says in any sport defense wins championships. Hard for me to say because I’m a very offensive minded player. But it’s the truth. In hockey of late whether it’s the NHL or dek/ball hockey, a hot goalie is better than a good goalie. Having all kinds of offensive power is good but lets face it, you can put up 7 goals every game but if you have no D or goalie you’re giving up 8. Saturday when you are playing for what seed you are is the day for offense. But the important day, Sunday, is meant for defense and heroes.
What is the hardest thing about winning in this sport? What separates winners from losers?
I think you need a lot of things to go right to win these tournaments. But ultimately I think it important to like your teammates. If you are all friends playing together you have a better chance putting it all on the line for your buddy. If you play with a group of guys you don’t like, it turns into you playing for yourself. There is zero room for selfish players if you want to be on a winning team.