Cody von Rueden may be in unfamiliar territory when it comes to residing and playing hockey in Sault Ste. Marie but he has a history with the coach who brought him north.
von Rueden, a 1992 birth year defenceman, (he turns 20 on October 22) has a prior association with Bruno Bragagnolo, who is the coach-general manager of the North American Hockey League's Soo Eagles.
As a 16-year old, before embarking on his junior career, von Rueden was one of Bragagnolo's top defencemen with the Chicago Young Americans major midgets.
Now, four years later, von Rueden is again one of Bragagnolo's top defencemen, this time with the NAHL Eagles.
It took a long and winding road for von Rueden to once again play for Bragagnolo.
von Rueden spent his rookie season as a junior -- the 2009-10 campaign -- in the United States Hockey League, getting into 32 games with the Waterloo Black Hawks. But a shoulder injury limited his participation to just 21 games in 2010-11, a season that began with Waterloo and ended in the NAHL with the Wenatchee Wild.
Seeking a fresh start, von Rueden moved over to the Eastern Jr. Hockey League for the 2011-12 season and had a breakout campaign for the Jersey Hitmen, scoring 33 points in 41 games from his blueline position.
The 6-foot-1, 190 pound von Rueden would have been content to return to Jersey for this 2012-13 season but jumped at the chance to join his old coach Bragagnolo when the Soo joined the NAHL from the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
"It was a no-brainer to be able to return to the NAHL and play for Coach Bruno and the Eagles," said von Rueden, on a recent edition of the Hockey North Show on ESPN 1400 Radio. "I played midgets for Coach Bruno in Chicago and it's because of him that I developed enough to move up to junior. I wouldn't be where I am at this stage of my hockey career without Coach Bruno."
von Rueden, a well-spoken, personable individual with a friendly nature, is one of three 1992 birth year defencemen with the Eagles. Along with fellow veterans Nathan Harris and Michael Lant, von Rueden has logged considerable minutes for the Eagles thus far this NAHL season while also tutoring the team's younger defencemen, notably 1995 birth year rookies Alex Robert and Pat Gazzillo.
Not only is von Rueden happy to be playing for Bragagnolo again, he's liking the junior hockey atmosphere of Sault Ste. Marie.
"It's a great hockey town," von Rueden related. "We have great fans and I love playing at the Pullar (Stadium)."
In his final season of junior hockey, von Rueden hopes to move up to the Division 1, National Collegiate Hockey Association level next fall. His coach, Bragagnolo, sees that as a good possibility, if not probability.
"I've been coaching hockey for more than 30 years," Bragagnolo said evenly, "and if you ask me, Cody is a Division 1 player. He's smart, he's coachable and he knows how to play his position."
NMU LIKES NOJHL
Robbie Payne has secured a future commitment to play Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association hockey at Northern Michigan University in Marquette.
Payne, a 1993 birth year forward from Gaylord, Mich., is currently in his second season with the Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings of the NAHL.
Kalamazoo head coach Marc Fakler confirmed Payne's recent commitment to NMU.
After scoring 40 goals in the NOJHL with the Soo Eagles for coach Bruno Bragagnolo during their 2010-11 championship season, Payne moved to the NAHL with Kalamazoo for the 2011-12 campaign and produced 55 points, 26 of which were goals. The Eagles are now part of the NAHL and compete with Kalamazoo in the North Division.
Payne, meanwhile, becomes the second former NOJHLer that NMU has recruited in the last two years.
Previously, NMU signed former Soo Eagles and Soo Thunderbirds goalie Michael Doan. Doan, a Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. native, is now a freshman at NMU.
The long and the short of it is that NMU has managed to land two former NOJHL standouts right from under the nose of its Division 1 rival, Lake Superior State Lakers, who are based in Sault Ste. Marie.