Captain of Major Junior hockey team, the Prince George Cougars between 2014-2017, Ruopp’s strong defensive presence and fighting spirit secured the Defenceman of the Year Award for three years running.
The Cougars’ only three-time captain, he played 258 games for the club in the Western Hockey League, recording 16 goals, 75 assists, alongside 346 penalty minutes and a plus-35 rating.
An NHL draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Ruopp was on the verge of signing a minor pro league deal after his junior career, but chose to further his education rather than go pro.
Combining his studies with college hockey, he made a big impression during his three seasons with the University of Saskatchewan, close to his hometown of Zehner, fighting to earn his place on the ice amidst a well-established defence roster.
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After his college team were forced off the ice last year due to Covid-19, Ruopp focused his attention on finishing his studies, before making his pro debut with Allen Americans at the end of the 2020-21 season. The Texas based ECHL side was also home to recent Giants signing, Scott Conway last season.
The 25-year-old defenceman will join fellow new recruits Cam Knight and Jeff Baum, bringing youth and energy to the Giants’ blue line, alongside the experience and maturity of returning fan favourites, Mark Garside and Kevin Raine.
The signing signals the end of a long courtship, with Belfast Giants head of hockey, Steve Thornton and head coach, Adam Keefe having played the long game, with the help of some reinforcements.
“I’ve been in contact with Steve Thornton for a few years now,” Ruopp said.
“He touched base back when I was in university and I explained to him that I wanted to get my degree first before playing and ever since then, every year we’ve just been staying in contact.
“Actually, a few players who I played on the Huskies with; Josh Roach, Kendall McFall and Jesse Forsberg played in Belfast, so they kind of opened the door for me and for potential future players as well.”
Commenting on the announcement, Belfast Giants head coach Adam Keefe said: “We’re excited to add another strong addition to our blue line in Sam Ruopp. He is a very talented hockey player, who we have been watching closely for a number of years.
“There has been high demand for his signature, and I am pleased he has chosen Belfast for his first full pro season. He will bring a physical presence to the Giants defence core, and, having been a Captain before, he brings valued leadership to the group. I think he will make a big impression with the fans.”
Canadian native Ruopp has links to the UK, his mother was born and raised in England before moving to Canada aged 21.
“I’m very, very excited to come to Belfast,” says Ruopp. “I’m a dual citizen; I have my UK passport, yet I’ve never experienced the life over there. I’ve never been overseas. So, I’m really looking forward to it. Going back seeing my mum’s old roots, old stomping grounds and yeah, just to be in Belfast and experience the culture and the team and the professional life as well.
Thinking about his first night pulling on the teal jersey and skating out into The SSE Arena, Ruopp says he is ready and raring to go.
He said: “Oh, I’m going be ecstatic. It’s going to be a very surreal feeling to play in front of a full crowd again and to get to experience all the people in Belfast and how they are as fans. I’m very, very excited and look forward to the opportunity given.
“From a fan’s perspective… everybody kind of has the itch to get out and watch some hockey, get some entertainment and have a little bit of normalcy back in their lives. And this is just one step of many that is going to bring people some joy back into their lives. So, I’m excited and hopefully just as excited as the fans are.”
And his message to the fans?
“To all the fans out there, I’m really looking forward to meeting you all and getting to play in front of you guys. It’s going to be a great season and I really hope that we can bring the cup home and win some games and better yet, provide some high-quality entertainment for you all, because you deserve it.”