Canadian left-winger Hilton Ruggles scored over 1,000 goals with eight different clubs in 17 seasons, gaining championship medals and All-Star recognition.
He came to this country in August 1988 after four years in Europe and made a big impact right away. In the first of his four seasons in Whitley Bay, his 207 points (104 goals) took the Warriors to the semi-final of the Heineken British Championships at Wembley Arena, and the ice hockey writers voted him onto their All-Star sextet.
After a brief spell in Edinburgh, in autumn 1992 his fellow countryman John Lawless brought him to the ambitious Cardiff Devils and he was one of the keys to the team’s capture of five major trophies in the first two of his three seasons in Wales – two British Championships, two Heineken British League titles and a Benson and Hedges Cup. A first team All-Star again in 1992-93, he was a consistent asset on the first attacking trio, despite working with different line-mates, and twice topped the club’s points scorers.
Ruggles followed Lawless when the latter was appointed coach of the new Manchester Storm in 1995-96. Despite playing in front of crowds of over 10,000, the Storm had to compete in the sport’s second tier and his 112 goals amounted to a fifth of the Storm’s winning total in their first year. Manchester helped to create the new Superleague the next season, and in 1997-98 they finished as league runners-up.
During this time, Hilton briefly became something of a personality, playing the part of Krell the Terminator in the ITV show Ice Warriors which was filmed at the Storm Shelter, as Manchester’s Nynex Arena was dubbed.
He returned to the north-east in 1998-99 and put in two seasons with Newcastle Riverkings, reaching the final of the Sekonda Superleague Play-offs in 2000. After turning 37, he dropped down a level and signed with the new Coventry Blaze in the British National League, returning once more to the head of the points table and earning a third All-Star ‘A’ team rating. When the Blaze scooped the league and championship double in 2002-03, he was the club’s number two points earner.
In autumn 2004, aged 41, he spent a productive final season back on Tyneside again with the renamed Newcastle Vipers. This time the side was composed mostly of local players under dual national coach Rob Wilson and they finished runners-up in the British National League and the Winter Cup.
Ruggles played 946 games in all British competitions, scoring 2,025 points (1,096 goals) with 2,200 penalty minutes. Like many Canadians, when he came here he had no idea his sport was played in the Old Country. On receiving his British citizenship in 1996, he quipped: “When I came to Britain, I thought I would stay for a year and play lots of golf.”
In his early days at home in Montreal, Hilton spent seasons 1980-84 in the Quebec Major Junior League and attended three NHL training camps before crossing the Atlantic and playing in Austria, Germany, Italy and France. The six-footer’s strengths were listed as toughness in the corners, excellent stick-handling, and the knack of being in the right place near his opponents’ goal.
As the first import of colour in this country since the mid-1950s, in his early years he was regrettably subjected to racial abuse at many rinks. “Some fans are really narrow-minded,” he said, “but when they taunt me it just makes me play harder.”
Hilton Ruggles was born in Montreal, Canada on 1 June 1963. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.