David Rutherford is an open book. He doesn’t shy away when asked about anything.
But the misunderstood Spokane Chiefs forward is especially open when it comes to talking about the hardest thing he’s been through.
He was 16. While kids his age were worrying about things like getting their first car, Rutherford had watched his father, Kelly, a longtime minor league hockey referee, battle melanoma for five years.
The cancer won.
On the day that his father died in a hospice bed in their Ladner, British Columbia, home, Rutherford signed a contract to play for the Penticton Vees in the British Columbia Hockey League. Four days later he left to join the team. His mother went from having a husband and a son by her side, to no one at all.
“It was the weirdest thing that had ever happened,” Rutherford said. “We knew he was sick for about three weeks and that he was coming to his end, so I spent as much time as I could with him, and when I signed that contract I had to have a parent initial it, too, and I had my dad do it.
“That was the last thing he could sign, and he was so out of it I don’t think he even signed the right name. That was really probably the toughest move of my career, to leave my mom when all that had just happened, it was really just difficult.”
Halfway through the season, Rutherford – who was struggling to adjust to life on his own for the first time in the wake of his father’s death – went home.
“We had a very close family,” said Rutherford, before explaining – with a smile – how his parents met.
His mother Tracy battled anorexia at age 18. Upon completing treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, Rutherford’s grandfather took her to his 100-foot fishing yacht to reintroduce her to the world, Rutherford said.
His father was their fishing guide, and five days after they met, he proposed. They were married 24 years.
“You never really notice anything until you lose it,” said Rutherford, whose reputation hasn’t necessarily been for his philosophical insight. “I’ve had a lot of different problems in life growing up. But I think everything happens for a reason – I really believe that.
“Losing my dad really made me realize how important family is. Where I’m living now, I have an amazing billet family. I love it there, I couldn’t ask for a better lady to live with. She’s a single mom, just like my mom has my friend (Vancouver Giants goalie) Tyson Sexsmith living with her.”
Rutherford’s injury-riddled Western Hockey League career began full time when he was 18 with the Giants in their 2005-06 run to the WHL championship. The Giants were blessed with on overabundance of right-wingers and consequently Rutherford was traded to Spokane just prior to last season.
It was in a Chiefs sweater that he finally made it through a season injury-free. He thrived, scoring 31 goals and finishing second on the team in scoring with 57 points – one behind local product Derek Ryan. This season, he looked to pick up right where he left off, scoring a hat trick in the Chiefs’ second game of the season. But a fluke groin injury sidelined Rutherford for 18 games, and he’s just starting to get back into his groove, scoring five goals and eight points in his last nine games.
This season, though, has been more about Rutherford’s development off the ice. It’s no secret that he’s known around the league as an agitator. He’s unquestionably one of the more distinct and outgoing personalities on the Chiefs’ roster. Prior to this season, it even rubbed some of his teammates the wrong way.
“Yeah, wow, that’s true,” said Chiefs coach Bill Peters when asked if Rutherford is as colorful as he seems. “Rudy beats to his own drum a little bit – he’s a free-spirited guy. He’s not going to be a guy that, when practice is over, goes home and has a nap and does something quiet.
“He’s a vibrant guy, and you need that – you need a lot of energy in your program – where in the dog days of December and January, he’s a guy that comes to the rink and still has a little bit of bounce to his step.”
He’s found a way to harbor what’s positive, and minimize what’s given him an individualistic reputation in the past.
“A lot of things have changed,” he said. “I used to be one of those kids that wanted attention for everything – good or negative. I’ve tried to go away from that and just be a good teammate this year.”
“He’s easy to like but at the same time easy to hate,” Chiefs captain Chris Bruton said.
Rutherford admits he and Bruton didn’t get along last season and said now Bruton is one of his best friends on the team.
“As a person he’s just matured a ton and he’s humbled out a lot,” Bruton said. “As a whole we feel he’s just totally turned a corner and we love him as much of a person now as a teammate.”
Don’t be mistaken, though. Rutherford takes pride in his role as an agitator. When the ‘Best of the West’ poll results came out at the end of last season, Rutherford discovered he had been voted the third-most irritating player in the league. His response was vintage Rutherford.
“That’s depressing – I thought I would have come in first,” he said. “I’m a guy that can stir the pot pretty well – everywhere I go I’ve always had that reputation. I don’t really care all that much what people think about me on the ice. I am who I am.
“I have a dirty side to me on the ice, I’ll be honest.”
He always is.
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