California Dreams

California, a women’s ice hockey hotbed?

Not exactly, but two of this year’s three Patty Kazmaier finalists, Chanda Gunn and winner Angela Ruggiero, grew up there, and with their inspiration and guidance, it’s making progress towards that end.

Gunn and Ruggiero were members of the first California Select team when they were only teenagers. About five years later, they started running a summer camp for the Selects, even back when Gunn was still playing on the team. The two have exemplified the ideal expressed at the Patty Kazmaier dinner every year for all players to give back to the sport of women’s hockey.

Ruggiero’s family relocated to Michigan years ago, but she still finds time every summer to travel back to Huntington Beach, Calif. and stay with Gunn’s family. Gunn, Ruggiero and U.S. national teamer Kerry Weiland — a former Wisconsin teammate of Gunn’s — have been instrumental in running the camp and serving as role models to younger California girls, who don’t have any local college programs to meet their aspirations.

“We try to give whatever encouragement that one week we’re there, just tell them to keep with it,” Ruggiero said. “Most of them play on boys teams so they have to fight through it, but if they keep with it, they can get a scholarship or go to an Ivy.”

Since Ruggiero and Gunn are older than most other seniors, they have already seen plenty of their players make the jump to the college level. Northeastern now has four Californians aside from Gunn on its roster. Jessica Koizumi, a player that Ruggiero and Gunn coached year after year, made a big impact at UMD as a freshman, scoring 21 goals and trailing just Jenny Potter and Caroline Ouellette among the Bulldogs’ scorers.

Such success stories have paved the way for more California kids to play D-I.

“Coaches that have recruited California hockey kids, they love them, and most will have two or three on a given team because they’ve had a good experience, and no one else is recruiting these kids,” Gunn said.

The kids who played for Gunn and Ruggiero showed their appreciation for their efforts by bombarding them with messages congratulating them on their Kazmaier nominations.

This past January, Gunn gave them the ultimate favor. Largely through her doing, Northeastern was able to schedule two games against Wisconsin out in California. While some California Select players had seen college hockey before, never had they seen it in California. Most had never seen Gunn play.

Gunn wowed the crowd, making more than 100 saves in two games as the Huskies twice tied the Badgers, who were then the No. 4 team in the country.

“That was by far the highlight of my career, going there and playing for them,” Gunn said.

While Gunn and Ruggiero acknowledge themselves as trailblazers for women’s hockey in California, Gunn is quick to point out that the current crop of players is digging even deeper.

“It’s definitely helped to put California on the map, but they’ve all held their own,” Gunn said. “They’re making their own reputations out there. You have a couple people as always that pave a path, but they’re definitely making a path of their own.”

But it was Gunn and Ruggiero who made the first steps. A decade since meeting each other, they have risen to the highest honors of college hockey. Next week, they will rise to the highest levels of international hockey as they play on their first U.S. World Championship team together. Not bad for a couple of kids from the Golden State.

“We had no idea,” said Ruggiero, when asked if she ever imagined back then that the two would have so much success. “In California, we didn’t even know there was college hockey or Olympics or anything. We just played because we loved the sport and had fun together.”