Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ross Rouleau moves the puck against the Odessa Jackalopes on April 2nd at NYTEX

Ross Rouleau signs for fourth season in purple and black

Hard working defenseman joins Burichin as blue line anchor

"I'm just hoping to make the team...I've been skating for a couple of hours every morning and then working out and riding the bike...if you don't give 110%, you're not making it." - Ross Rouleau, prior to September 2008's Making the Cut prospect camp

When I first met Ross Rouleau in September of 2008, he had just arrived at the NYTEX Sports Centre after driving over 1,300 miles from his home in Hancock, Michigan (the northernmost city in Michigan).

At 20, Rouleau had been skating since he could walk. He played high school hockey for the Hancock Bulldogs. In their 2002-03 season, Hancock had a 22-3-0 record, marking the most victories in school history. They also had 14 consecutive wins, another school record, and took their fourth consecutive Lake Superior Hockey Conference Title. They were also the #1 Ranked D3 Team in the state of Michigan.

Rouleau spent two seasons with the Lions

Rouleau played for the Marquette Rangers (NAHL) before attending Finlandia University (NCAA Division III). Over the course of two seasons (2006-08), he registered 34 points (7 G, 27 A) and 54 penalty minutes in 40 games played.

Ross' older brother Pete, who had signed with the Brahmas that August, encouraged Ross to try out for the Brahmas at the "Making the Cut" prospect camp. The 6', 180 pound defenseman came to NYTEX two weeks early, skating and working out daily to be ready physically.

Rouleau brought a level of skill, maturity and a work ethic that impressed coaches Dan Wildfong and Ron Vogel. When he learned he had made the cut, Rouleau said he couldn't believe it.

"I was pumped...but it only gets harder from here," he said.

After earning a spot in the Brahmas training camp, Rouleau continued working hard and made his way onto the final roster, only to be placed on waivers after just two games.

Later in the season, the Brahmas were making a run towards their first Central Hockey League championship, but their blue line was depleted. Mike Vellinga was ailing, but continued to play. Eric Lundberg was out with what would later be assessed a season-ending injury. Justin Kinnunen had been called up to the American Hockey League's San Antonio Rampage. Matt Hanson had recently been traded to Arizona.

Rouleau put everything he had into the renewed opportunity and played the final 15 games of the season. He picked up two assists during another 15 games in the 2009 playoffs and on May 6th, he joined his older brother in celebration of the team's Ray Miron President's Cup championship win over the Colorado Eagles.

Pete and brother Ross celebrate with the President's Cup

Rouleau returned for the 2009-10 campaign, having bulked up during the off-season. He showed much improvement over his rookie year and tallied 18 points (4 G, 14 A, -4) and 72 PIM in 60 regular season games played and earned a call-up to the AHL's Houston Aeros. His first professional goal was scored against the Colorado Eagles at NYTEX on January 10, 2010. He added four assists in eight games played in the post-season.

In early August of 2010, Rouleau signed with the ECHL's Kalamazoo Wings, giving him the opportunity to play closer to home.

“Ross plays a hard-nosed style of defense,” K-Wings head coach Nick Bootland said. “He’s not a big guy, but he’s certainly willing to get his nose dirty. He’s an up-and-coming young defenseman who possesses a heavy shot.”

Unfortunately, their weren't enough spots available on the final roster and the K-Wings' loss was the Brahmas gain. Last season, Rouleau scored 14 points (2 G, 12 A) and was assessed 54 PIM in 59 regular season games played. Again, his improvement on the ice was evident as noted by Brahmas head coach Dan Wildfong.

“Ross has grown so much as a player in the past three seasons, and we expect big things from him this season. He knows the system and has experienced what it takes to bring home the Cup,” Wildfong said.

Rouleau joins Jim Burichin as the first members of the Brahmas' defensive core for the 2011-12 season. Not a bad pair to anchor the blue line. I doubt anyone would disagree.

Photo Credits: Top, bottom: Robert Keith; middle: Finlandia University

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