Pittsburgh Hockey Digest

Robert Morris

10 years later, Colonial roots remain for Ryan Cruthers

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Ryan Cruthers, a 2008 graduate of RMU, now coaching the Corpus Christi IceRays of the NAHL — CORPUS CHRISTI ICERAYS

Ryan Cruthers has spent time in countless cities over the course of his hockey career, spanning 13 years as a player and four years (so far) as a coach. His career began in New York, and has taken him to places such as Alaska, Florida, Manitoba, Pennsylvania, and more. Along the way, he spent three seasons in Moon as a member of the Robert Morris Hockey team, which wound up being some of the most impactful years of his life.

Each stop has provided him with memories, insight, and connections, all of which have helped lead him to where he is today. After playing 8 years of professional hockey, he made the jump to coaching. Cruthers is now the head coach of the Corpus Christi IceRays in the NAHL, and has his sights set high moving forward as a coach.

Cruthers’ collegiate career originally began at West Point, where he spent two years playing for Army. He then transferred to Robert Morris for the 2006-07 season – the program’s second season – where he had to sit out due to NCAA transfer rules. He proved to be worth the wait, as he wound up being a dominant player in his two seasons as a Colonial. Cruthers led the team in scoring both seasons, including a senior campaign where he scored 49 points in 34 games, was the CHA player of the year, and a Hobey Baker nominee. 

Cruthers is still found near the top of some noteworthy RMU career records.  His 1.26 points per game average during his career leads the program. His senior year total of 49 points ranks fifth in the record books for individual season totals by a Colonial. Looking back, the years spent at RMU were instrumental to Cruthers both personally and professionally. 

“I think it was life-changing,” he reflected in a phone interview with PHD. “A lot of important things happened in my life in my last two years there. I met my wife at Robert Morris, I had a really good last two years where I was able to win player of the year in the division that we were in and we had a lot of team success, we beat a lot of highly-ranked teams, we won the Alaska Showcase beating BU that year. There are a ton of memories that I have and lifelong friendships and it was a great experience for me.”

Today, 14 years after he first arrived on campus and 15 years since the program began, Cruthers is still in tune with the team and often thinks back to his time on campus. 

“I laugh about it now, it seems like it was yesterday that I was there and playing,” he shared. “You look at all the stuff they do on social media and the throwbacks over the years and it’s hard to believe I was there from the second year on. It’s wild.”

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Cruthers with the ECHL’s Reading Royals, where he is the team’s all-time leading scorer- PHOTO PROVIDED

While it may seem like just yesterday to him, Cruthers has travelled many miles and played a lot of hockey games, over 500, since he was a Colonial. A large majority of this time was spent in Reading, PA, as a member of the ECHL’s Reading Royals. He was nearly a point-per-game player for the Royals, scoring 273 points in 278 games, and is the team’s all-time leading scorer.

Unsurprisingly, he amassed countless memories over the years. Traveling between cities and leagues provided so many different, yet valuable experiences. 

“Every team has a little bit of significance and a good memory,” he shared. “I was lucky enough to play in Reading for a long time and be the captain there and all-time leading scorer. That city really became a home to me and my family. The countless American league teams that I played for all were great experiences. Manitoba, where I scored my first American league goal and spent a lot of time was awesome. In the East Coast League I got the opportunity to play in Alaska for a bit, start a program in Orlando. …I was able to be an ECHL All-Star my first year which was a great experience. I loved my pro career and it was a great eight years.”

After an impressive professional playing career, which finished in 2015, it was an easy decision to move into coaching afterwards. It was something he had known that he wanted to do since he was on campus at RMU. Cruthers was able to get some experience as a coach while playing, as he was a player-assistant in Reading during his later years there. This gave him his first true experience behind the bench, and he was able to learn a lot.

“Coaching was something that I knew from when I was playing that it was a career path I wanted to take,” he said. “I majored in sports management at Robert Morris and I knew I wanted to be a coach. Towards the end of my career I was a player assistant in Reading and the Head Coach there, Larry Courville, did a great job mentoring me and teaching me how to be a head coach.”

 After this experience coaching minor-pro hockey as an assistant, he decided to begin his own path as a head coach. The first stop on that path was in Charlotte, NC in the USPHL Elite league at the junior level. He was able to find success there quickly, and has since continued to rise up the ranks. Much like his playing career, opportunities have arisen to help this progression, and he has his heights set high looking into the future. 

“I had the opportunity to coach a junior team in Charlotte and then ended up buying it and owning it and won a championship there as a coach in year two which was my best experience as a coach so far,” he shared. “From there I have goals, I want to coach in the NHL one day and I’m going to do whatever it takes to get there. Just like my playing career, different opportunities take you down different paths and last year I had the opportunity to coach in the USHL which is to me the best league in the world as far as junior hockey goes, and I do love juniors. That was an unbelievable experience and it’s a league I want to get back into.”

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Ryan Cruthers behind the bench for the USHL’s Chicago Steel last season – PHOTO PROVIDED

After some time in the USHL, last season, he has settled in as the head coach of Corpus Christi in the NAHL. It’s a young team but he likes the direction it’s headed in.

“Now I’m in the North American league and it’s been awesome too, built a program up with no returners and we’re having a pretty successful season,” he reflected. “Even though we’re in last place now we have games in hand that if we win we’ll be in second place so I’m really happy about it, everyone’s path is different and I’m just enjoying the coaching side of it now.”

Even though a lot of time has gone by since he left Robert Morris, Cruthers is still in touch with the program. Given his role as a coach in juniors, he has to be in tune with the college environment to benefit his players. That connection to the program became even stronger this year, when Brian Kramer, an IceRay, committed to RMU

Along with these coaching connections, his college teammates have proven to be lifelong friends.

“I was able to see coach Schooley in September in Minnesota,” he said. “One of my players committed to Robert Morris to play there in 2 years so I’ve been speaking to them quite a bit, the whole staff there really. Mike Gershon, I talk to him a lot, usually around once a week or once every other week still. A lot of my teammates and roommates that I had there are still very close, we were in each other’s weddings and we had a little bit of a Robert Morris reunion when we were in Minnesota with a few guys that live there now, so (I’m) still very connected and tight with that whole group.”

These RMU ties came in handy when talking with Kramer as he was deciding to commit. Given his personal experiences there as a player and knowledge of the coaching staff, he was able to provide valuable insight to his player.

On top of the hockey element, Cruthers knows what it’s like living in Pittsburgh, and being a member of the overall RMU community. From the buildings to the president, Cruthers had nothing but good things to share about RMU.

“Like I told him, I loved everything about Robert Morris when I was there and the place has only gotten better and better,” he remarked. “I mean you look at campus, I’ve been back a couple times since I graduated and it’s just amazing to see where it’s come, just the buildings on campus and the academics and the culture of the school is really what I talked to Bryan about was hockey is one thing, it’s a great hockey program, great coaches, great schedule, it’s a  really great place to play college hockey.

“But more importantly the other time you spend around the campus and in the community, it’s a great city to live in and the campus is unbelievable, and I just like the whole atmosphere. I love the new president at RMU, just seeing his involvement with athletics, I’ve seen how involved he is with the school and I think it’s just an unbelievable place to be right now.”

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Cruthers celebrating a goal against Wayne State during the 2007-08 season -JASON COHN/RMU ATHLETICS

As far as the player coming to Robert Morris in two years, Brian Kramer, it appears that Colonials fans have a lot to be excited about. Cruthers sees a lot of potential in the Wexford native and former Pens Elite player. 

“You’re going to see a complete defenseman,” he expressed. “He skates extremely well and has a great sense of instincts. He’s got a long stick that allows him to defend well, and I think he’s going to be an elite player for Robert Morris in two years. I have high expectations for him and I’m excited to see him wear the same jersey that I wore. It should be cool and I think the fans will enjoy watching him play, he’s an exciting player to watch.”

Kramer is clearly a very skilled hockey player, but as a player of Cruthers, fans can expect one other trait to stand out for him: his character.  An individual player’s character and the team’s overall culture is something Coach Cruthers clearly values.

Perhaps the most famous example of a coach valuing culture was Herb Brooks when he was building the 1980 Olympic hockey team. However, this is an idea that is popular all throughout the hockey world. Cruthers has experienced this first-hand as both a player and coach, and is what he attributes to the success his teams have had.

“The best advice I got was you win with culture not skill,” he shared. “I’ve based my programs all on culture over my coaching career. Every place I’ve been, whether it’s Charlotte, Chicago, Corpus, Reading, wherever I stop to coach I want to build a strong culture and surround myself with good people, and that leads to success. I’ve been lucky enough to win a championship in my short coaching career and that was a direct result of the culture that was created. We didn’t maybe have the best players but we had the right ones. … Obviously you like to have both, and I’ve been lucky enough to coach some pretty skilled players that have great character.”

As he now looks to advance through the coaching ranks, it’s clear that Cruthers is off to a good start and has an exciting road ahead of him. It’s now been over 10 years since he was on campus at RMU, but he is still thankful for the opportunity he was given as a member of the hockey team.

It allowed him to play eight years of pro hockey and now have success as a coach. He also made numerous lifelong connections ranging from his teammates and friends to his Head Coach and now friend Derek Schooley. It’s clear that Cruthers has a lot of Colonial Pride and will always have ties to the RMU community.

“I can’t thank Coach Schooley and Robert Morris enough for the opportunity they gave me when I transferred,” he remarked. “Really Derek has been a lifelong friend, he started out as a coach and now I consider him a very good friend and guy I take a lot of advice from. So I can’t thank the school and the hockey program enough.”

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