Had you seen him at practice that day you never would’ve known that something wasn’t right in the world of David Rutherford. You could’ve stood back and watched him lace up his skates like he always had, run drills with the boys, and practiced the game he was devoting his life to. What you wouldn’t have seen was the loss the sixteen year old hockey player was facing. He had come to practice that day to find peace, if only for a moment. In the middle of a very interesting interview, Rutherford officially became the first hockey player ever to leave me at a loss for words, “You gotta take everything with grace. At sixteen years old my father passed away from cancer and I could have easily turned to doing drugs or doing something but my heart was too set on wanting to make the NHL and stuff and that’s why I’m still here at 24 and I believe I’m going to make the NHL. You gotta make changes and sacrifices but it’ll happen and I’ll laugh later on in life when it does.” I had a hard time coming up with where to go from there, unsure of how to continue my line of questioning when Rutherford himself stepped in, “Honestly it’s open…I have no regrets in that, like, in a sense I’m a glass half full type. Like I was lucky enough to have a Dad for 16 years, there’s kids that don’t have a Dad ever. So like, it is what it is. It made me stronger, it made me have to grow up quicker, but there’s no point moping over it. I remember the day it happened. I had training that day, I didn’t miss a practice, I went to skate and everyone was wondering why I was here and I said, because that’s where the most peace was, was on the ice, even in the summer time. It’s one of those things, people make excuses but excuses are for losers, I really don’t have many. If you want to do something it doesn’t matter what obstacles are in your way, there are going to be obstacles, don’t kid yourself…unless you’re Sidney Crosby, but outside of that you gotta push through everything.”
Whatever you do, don’t feel bad for Rutherford, he doesn’t want your pity and he most certainly doesn’t need it. When the world has told David no, he has always fought back, pushing against the barriers in his way, doing things nobody thought he could. Standing only 5’ 8” tall, the center for the ECHL Florida Everblades never turns down the opportunity to prove people wrong returning home year after year with another Championship underneath him, seven to be exact. After facing an injury, and losing a two year deal in the AHL as a result, David still sees life pretty simply, “It’s one of those things, I could cry about it or whatever but no, I just got back to work. I knew what I had to do, I had to get ready for pre-surgery…you are gonna fall and get knocked down but you gotta just get back up. It’s dry and cut to me. You gotta just keep battling, get back up. Stuff is gonna happen, it’s just going to make you stronger in the end.”
The word optimist doesn’t necessarily fit the man missing his four front teeth, courtesy of the game he loves, losing them in the first game of the playoffs this year, but if you could exchange jibs for championship rings he could still lose a couple more and break even, and do it with the biggest toothless grin in the world. Seven championships and the scars to prove it, Rutherford is the very definition of dedication to hockey. Says Rutherford of his love of the game, “When I was three years old I said I wanted to be a hockey player, I don’t even know what I would do if I wasn’t at this point. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do every day was try to get better at hockey. Some people have it in them, some don’t. After I’m done with hockey I’ll probably still go into coaching and be still somewhere around hockey. You either have it in your blood or you don’t. It’s pretty simple. When it becomes not fun, that’s probably when I’ll let it go, but I don’t see that happening for awhile.”
Rutherford’s most recent championship was earned the hard way with a rough and tumble group of guys in Florida. An uphill battle at times, the boys from the Florida Everblades had more than their fair share of struggles on the road to the Kelly Cup, “We had our fair share of ups and downs for sure, I don’t know any other teams that had two nine game losing streaks through their season and the coach didn’t get fired…losing nine games and you can’t find a way to win, everyone and their dog is pointing fingers at whose gotta go and whatnot. It’s crazy to look back now and look at the phase we went through when we had nothing left. We had had terrible terrible points, and then we finally realized that this was the team that was going to stick together the rest of the year and to make the push to the playoffs…there were tons of highs and lows both individually and as a team…”
After some pretty rough roads the boys sat down for one of those infamous behind closed doors conversations left simply to those who play; no coaches, no fans, no media, and most certainly no talking about what was said. Whatever was said in that dressing room changed the tide for the struggling crew however, and it wasn’t long before the group found themselves back in the win column, “At first it seemed like nothing would go in…you couldn’t figure it out…winners know how to win, they find ways through the tough times, and a lot of the time those tough times define players…I think the turning point was when a couple of us older guys sat down with just the players in the dressing room and said ‘Listen this is it. You can either be home in the beginning of April or do something pretty magical.’ And I have to say it was a turning point for sure and that made us push the gears… At one point we weren’t even in the playoffs. I think when something like that happens and you have a players only meeting you really find out who your character guys are…”
The feelings associated with any major win can be hard to sum up but David was pretty clear in how he felt about lifting that Kelly Cup in front of the home crowd in Florida, “This was my seventh championship junior to pro, but I had never won a cup at home, so it was a really different feeling. We’ll remember this as players forever, but the thing that really racked my mind when we were there were the fans. There were fans that had been there for 14 years with that franchise from the beginning that had never seen a championship brought there. They had been to the championship twice but they lost both times. As much as it was about us it was so much more about the fans and stuff. We brought peace to a lot of people there and that seems like such a little thing in the hockey aspect but it was such a bigger thing in the significance of the world, it really meant so much more to people in Florida (in Naples and Ft. Meyers) than it probably did to us at that moment.”
Sometimes controversial, but always entertaining, Rutherford is building his own social media following on twitter that some would envy, but he knows when it’s time to play and when it’s time to be serious. Recently he suspended his account for a few days to gain some clarity and focus, something that needs to happen every once in awhile for anyone really. Sacrificing twitter is really nothing when you’re willing to sacrifice your body to achieve higher levels in the hockey hierarchy. For those who follow him be assured he is back in action on the social media platform, but don’t be surprised if he disappears from your feeds every once in awhile. “I just thought it was a distraction. It was one of those things I just didn’t need to be a distraction and I probably should’ve deleted it during the season. Some guys live off their twitter, and I had a lot of followers for a minor league hockey player…I guess some people found it interesting, but at the same time I needed to focus on my summer, what’s really important in life like nutrition, training, and sleep. As much as I’d like to party this summer I need to make strides…”
Next time you have a rough day, be encouraged and think about David Rutherford and all of the obstacles he has overcome and will continue to crush. When I asked Rutherford to tell me about the worst game he’s ever played, one where the thought crossed him mind if he should ever lace em up again he was fast to answer “Not a chance. Even on my worst I knew I’d come back. It’s only human, there are going to be bad days, but I go into every situation thinking I’m the best player on the ice in a sense. Maybe I might not be but confidence and mental strength in that aspect really made me propel and do well. Maybe that’s why I’ve won so much, it’s simple, you don’t want to lose. Don’t get me wrong there’s been games where I’ve been like, holy crap I was minus five tonight…how the hell did that happen? But you just brush it off, that’s why you have 82 games.” Wise words from a rather young man if you ask me.
David was quite impressive with his down to earth banter and I asked him to weigh in on a few other topics recently making news around the NHL. When asked about his opinion on You Can Play, he was incredibly supportive of the project. “At the end of the day I don’t know why people would haze about stuff like that. You shouldn’t judge people on aspects like that…I’m glad it’s being brought to people’s attention. It’s definitely something serious that can’t be ignored…who am I to judge anyone on any of that?” For more information on the You Can Play Project go to www.youcanplayproject.org or just click HERE and read the Gongshow post all about it!
What you should take away from this is that when somebody tells you that you can’t do something because you aren’t tall enough, fast enough, or even mentally tough enough, prove them wrong; all things are possible. Take it to the ice, work it out, and be the player and person you want to be. No obstacle is too big if your heart is in it, and if you have the drive, you absolutely will succeed. Like David Rutherford you can always go back to where your heart is on the ice, and find peace in your passion.
Make sure you follow David on twitter for some more than entertaining tweets! @Rutherford91
And if you aren’t following me yet you should do that as well! @AmySnow17
W.S.P. Make some sacrifices and push yourself beyond everything you ever dreamed!
P.S. Gongers, take a word of advice from Rutherford: “You can’t make a house wh*re into a trophy wife.” So be careful, refer back to the Red Flags She’s Faking It and heed those words! You’ll be glad you did.