TULSA, Okla. -- Angela Ruggiero is 5 feet 9 inches tall, 190 pounds, and worth her weight in gold.
The proof was in her mother's pocketbook last night, when Karen Ruggiero produced Angela's Olympic gold medal during a pregame conversation with a father and his two young daughters. All three wanted to see the medal. All three gave it a touch. And sighed a little.
There is magic in Ruggiero's game.
A two-time US Olympian (gold and silver), winner of the Patty Kazmaier Award, and a Harvard graduate, Ruggiero was in Tulsa last night to visit her younger brother, Bill, goaltender for the Oilers of the Central Hockey League.
She brought her skates.
There is no magic in the Rio Grande Valley team the Oilers faced. There isn't even any buzz in these Killer Bees, the CHL's last-place team. Tulsa had a 2-0 lead after the first period.
Ruggiero, 25, who recently quit her job in commercial real estate in Boston to join the Montreal Axion in the National Women's League to get more competition as she prepares for the 2006 Olympic Games, took advantage of a rare opportunity to play with her brother.
"This is totally Bill's idea," she said.
The Oiler players thought it was fine; Angela practiced with them in December and they were quickly apprised of her ability. And the Oilers brass seemed to think the historical appearance might help a little at the gate. (Attendance was 5,718; the average is 4,484).
So they signed Ruggiero to a one-game contract, and last night they dropped the puck on a little history at about 7:37 (CST). Ruggiero became the first female position player (non-goalie) to skate in the CHL, and she and Bill became the first brother and sister to play professional hockey together in North America.
Paired on defense with Mario Joly, a 6-4, 240-pounder, Angela looked like she belonged. She absorbed a lightweight check along the boards and later sent a lead pass onto the tape of Malcolm Hutt's stick as he moved into the offensive zone. By her third shift, she was getting crunched, and crunching in return.
Later in the period, she stabbed the puck away from her brother's goal crease with a deft pokecheck. The first period was supposed to be the only one Ruggiero played; because of league rules, she needed a waiver to play at all. She didn't score a goal, and she didn't take a shot, but she looked sharp."I just love moving the puck fast," she said after the period. "I didn't want any special treatment out there and the guys were great. It was fun, I worked hard. But the game's not over." Ruggiero sat on the bench for the second period, watching as the Oilers pushed the score to 4-0.
"It went so fast," she said after the second period. "It's like every big game; it takes two shifts to get going. But it's weird, then I felt really comfortable out there."
As she spoke, an Oilers official whispered in her ear. She had gotten the OK to play more. Her eyes lit up.
She helped out with the Oilers' fifth goal, holding off Jason Hawes until her teammates could spring loose, sending Klage Kaebel down to score at 1:58.
"I was impressed with the way she moved the puck," said Oilers coach Butch Kaebel. "She's a real smart player and a great skater. She even got a little feisty out there, I heard." Bill Ruggiero said the official threatened to give Angela a penalty for holding onto an opponent's stick. In the most magical moment of all, while the Oilers swarmed the Bees' net in the final minute, Angela flicked a backhand shot at the net, Jason Bermingham rapped at the rebound, and Doug Pirnak tapped it in for the goal.
Plus 2 and an assist.
The game ended with a 7-2 Oilers victory and Bill and Angela Ruggiero hugging on the ice.
"This is my life, playing hockey," said Bill, "and for Angela to be a part of is was spectacular."
"I had a blast," Angela said.