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Local hockey star vows to seize ‘big opportunity’ in QMJHL

Robbie Rutledge will be playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this season after signing with the Charlottetown Islanders. Submitted photo

‘When I wasn’t drafted into the OHL, I thought my major junior dreams were kind of over. I kind of used it as motivation,’ admits Robbie Rutledge


 

Tyler EvansORILLIAMATTERS.COM


An up and coming Orillia hockey player has used hard work and determination to earn a coveted spot on one of the top teams in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).

Robbie Rutledge, 18, grew up playing in the Orillia Minor Hockey Association program before switching over to the North Central Predators AAA program after his peewee season.

The left winger had a breakout season last year with the Hearst Lumberjacks of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League. The Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School graduate racked up 67 points in just 46 games.

“I was surrounded by a really good coaching staff and a good group of guys,” Rutledge said. “It made it so much easier to play and gave me more confidence.”

The Lumberjacks lost in the championship finals during a Game 7 overtime heartbreaker.

“I’m using that as motivation,” he said. “I never want to have that feeling again of being so close and coming up short.”

Scouts from multiple teams had their eyes on Rutledge last year, but it was the Charlottetown Islanders who made an official offer to move the Orillia native to Prince Edward Island.

“This is a big opportunity for me,” he said. “When I wasn’t drafted into the OHL, I thought my major junior dreams were kind of over.”

Rutledge had been overlooked by teams in the past due to what was considered by scouts as a lack of skill and below-average speed.

“When I didn’t get drafted, I kind of used it as motivation,” Rutledge said. “I kept working, I got stronger, and got faster.”

Rutledge said he quickly developed a habit of being the hardest worker at the gym and on the ice. After teammates had left the ice following practice, Rutledge would stay on to put in extra work.

Now that his skills and speed have been sharpened, Rutledge is ready to put them to the test on one of the QMJHL’s best teams.

“They have an amazing coach who won CHL coach of the year,” he explained. “They made the finals last year and have a lot of guys who had played in the organization who are now in the NHL.”

In his first year with his new team, Rutledge wants to cement his reputation for having a stellar work ethic in a new environment.

“It’s going to be a big change,” he said. “I will play my role and do whatever the team needs me to do to help them win.”

Rutledge hopes to one day make the NHL, but he’s taking it one day at a time.

“I’m not focused on that too much,” he said. “I’m just trying to have fun because I only get three more years of junior. I want to make the most out of it.”

Rutledge says he couldn’t have made it as far as he already has without the support of his grandparents and parents.

“They have always supported me no matter what,” he said. “Even when I was at my lowest, they always kept me going and pushing forward.”