One of the most talented and popular imports to come to this country, Canadian defenceman Ron Shudra spent 19 seasons here, winning five league championships, six play-off medals and earning three All-Star ratings.
Much respected by his peers, he was often appointed team captain, while his fans dubbed him ‘Rocket Ron’ in admiration of his bullet slapshot from the point.
After being drafted in the third round (63rd overall) by Edmonton Oilers in 1986, he turned out in ten games for the Stanley Cup winners in 1987-88, notching ten assists and counting Wayne Gretzky among his team-mates. His performance failed to impress head coach Glen Sather, however, and he was sent back to the minors before the Oilers retained the Stanley Cup.
The experience did not exactly prepare him for life in British ice hockey but he saw little future in North America. In 1990 he crossed the Atlantic and joined the cash-strapped Solihull Barons of the Heineken British League’s Premier Division. To his credit, Ron took this unusual career move in his stride, like many of the changes later forced on him.
In his first British season, he finished as runner-up in the Barons’ scoring but then the club’s serious financial problems forced them to drop two levels. After the early season cup competition, he became a founder member of the Sheffield Steelers who, despite playing in an 8,500-seat arena, were told to start in the third tier of the sport.
Appointed captain, he led them to promotion twice in two seasons. On 5 October 1991, he scored their first ever league goal in a 13-2 victory at Sunderland, and his 24 play-off points (eight goals) in 1993-94 helped them to their first Heineken British Championship final at Wembley Arena. A year later he collected his first league and championship medals. By the late spring of 1996 his total of medals rose to five with a repeat of the previous campaign’s triumphs plus a Benson & Hedges Cup.
On the advent of the Superleague, he scored in his team’s third successive play-off triumph, this time in Manchester Arena, but knee surgery kept him off the ice for a good part of season 1998-99.
After serving eight years as a Steeler, he was understandably upset when he was dismissed, reportedly during a two-minute phone call at the end of the campaign. Signing for Hull Thunder of the British National League, however, enabled him to continue to live in Sheffield with his family.
The Thunder’s top scorer with 72 points (26 goals), Shudra once again impressed with his professional attitude, adapting easily to life away from the import-dominated Superleague. The second tier British National League (BNL) awarded him an All-Star rating and selected him as their Defenceman of the Year.
After a second season in Hull, he returned to Sheffield ice and on 30 March 2002 he netted the tying goal in their 3-2 play-off semi-final victory over London Knights in Nottingham. Next day, he collected his fourth play-off championship medal. This was a busy season for the 34-year-old as he also helped out in the club’s back office and found time to play in the BNL with Edinburgh Capitals.
When the ambitious Coventry Blaze came calling, Shudra returned to the league full-time. With his fine hockey brain and well-honed poke-check he helped the Blaze to the league title and went on to score the winning goal in the second game of their play-off final series against Cardiff Devils.
In the inaugural season of the Elite League in 2003-04, he returned to the Steelers for the third time and tenth winter. In his first of his three campaigns the team captured the league and play-off double while he also served as the club’s first junior development officer.
At the age of 38, the Rocket moved a few hundred yards to join Sheffield Scimitars in the new IceSheffield rink. He spent the last three years of his playing career in the English Premier League, first as team captain, then for his final campaign as player-coach. He was twice named to the All-Star teams.
He finally hung up his blades at the end of season 2008-09, aged 41, after appearing in exactly 1,000 games here, tallying 1,224 points (481 goals) and spending 809 minutes in the sin-bin. Of those games, 603 were with Sheffield Steelers, where he scored 785 points (325 goals).
Ronald James Shudra was born on 28 November 1967 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.