Wichita, KS (July 28th) - The Wichita Thunder, proud member of the ECHL and powered by Toyota, announced on Tuesday that they have agreed to terms with defensemen Ryan Ruikka (RYE-kah) and Andrew Blazek (BLAY-zeck) for the upcoming 2015-16 season.
“I'm excited to get both of these young defensemen into camp,” said Head Coach Kevin McClelland. “Ryan had a solid career in arguably the best conference in NCAA hockey and has spent the last two years overseas. I know he is excited to get back to the US. Blazek is a tall, left-handed defenseman who also had a solid career at the NCAA level.”
Ruikka, 27, returns stateside after playing the last two seasons in Europe. A native of Chelsea, Michigan, Ruikka played a four-year collegiate career at Boston University tallying 19 points (4g, 15a) in 97 games. As a freshman, he won a National Championship during the 2009 season and was named as an assistant captain during his senior year. The 6-foot, 200-pound blue liner spent his rookie season with TUTO Hockey of Finland2 and earned a bronze medal while collecting 16 points in 42 games. Last season, Ruikka played for GAP of the French League and claimed a league championship.
“I'm really excited to play back in the USA and looking forward to a great season in Wichita,” stated Ruikka.
After graduating, he received the College Prize for Excellence after earning a bachelor's and master's in the College of Arts and Sciences in Economics. He was named to the NCAA (Hockey East) All-Academic Team two years in a row (2009-10 and 2010-11). Prior to attending college, Ruikka was drafted by the Lincoln Stars of the USHL in 2006 (round six, #70 overall) and was sent to the Des Moines Buccaneers during the 2006-07 season.
Blazek, 26, enters his second full season as a pro and first in Wichita. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder played five years at Robert Morris University totaling 51 points (17g, 34a) in 129 games. During his freshman year, he made a position change around Christmas and has played on the blue line ever since. As a senior, his teammates voted him as the Defensive Player of the Year as he was fourth in the NCAA in blocked shots. That same season, his team won the Atlantic Hockey Championship before losing to Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“I've heard some great things about Coach McClelland, the Thunder Organization, and the city of Wichita,” said Blazek. “ I'm thankful for the chance to get out there and contribute.”
Blazek joined the Cincinnati Cyclones after his senior year, appearing in six regular season games and 20 games during their Kelly Cup playoff run in 2013-14. Last season, he played in 12 games with the Cyclones before being dealt to South Carolina. Blazek also earned a call-up to the Worcester Sharks of the American Hockey League (AHL), skating in three games. He's no stranger to Kansas as he was a part of the Topeka Roadrunners of the NAHL in 2008-09. He tallied 29 points (17g, 12a) and appeared in nine playoff games during his time in the capital city.
Blazek and Ruikka were teammates in juniors when they played for the Des Moines Buccaneers in 2006-07, so they have some familiarity with each other. They join Kenton Miller, Anthony De Luca, Todd Hosmer and Timothy Boyle to the roster of players that have been announced for next season.
Season tickets are on sale now. Don't delay! Call the Wichita Thunder office and visit with a season ticket rep today to learn more. Stay up-to-date on all the news during the off-season by visiting www.wichitathunder.com. About the ECHL
Began in 1988-89 with five teams in four states, the ECHL has grown into a coast-to-coast league with 28 teams in 21 states and one Canadian province for its 28th season in 2015-16. There have been 569 players who have started their career in the ECHL have gone on to play in the National Hockey League, including 28 who made their NHL debuts in the 2014-15 season. The ECHL had affiliations with 29 of the 30 NHL teams in 2014-15, marking the 18th consecutive season that the league had affiliations with at least 20 teams in the NHL. Further information on the ECHL is available on its website at ECHL.com.