By MARIO ANNICCHIARICO
Little did the Ruck twins, Liam and Markus, know that when they first took to the sport of hockey at age four, it would lead to this.
The Osoyoos, B.C., natives took a shine to the sport early on, rising through the ranks of South Okanagan Minor Hockey Association (MHA). Now, the Okanagan Hockey Academy forwards - and recent first-round draft picks of the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League (WHL) - are two of four BC Hockey products named to the Canadian National Team heading to the 2024 Youth Olympic Games.
Along with B.C.’s Ryan Lin (Richmond Jets MHA) and Mathis Preston (Penticton MHA), the Ruck twins will compete with the Maple Leaf on their chests in Gangwon, South Korea, January 19 to February 1, 2024. Men’s hockey – for 16-year-olds - will take place January 27-31 with Canada situated in a group with host South Korea and Finland.
The Rucks have proudly taken their steps through the minor hockey system.
“I didn’t think about it that much growing up, but this is pretty cool. I felt it was a lot better having the two of us, being able to compete together. We just kept working hard and it’s paid off,” Markus said of he and his twin.
“There were a lot of talented players there on our team and our coach, Jim Liebel, he was a great coach, and helped us become the players that we are now,” Markus added of their South Okanagan MHA days.
Liam explained that the pair began hockey as under-ages in the South Okanagan system and the interest obviously was handed down from dad, Derek Ruck, who played three seasons for the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL.
“It (Osoyoos) was a smaller town to grow up in and we just focussed on our craft, and it got us to where we are,” said Liam. “For sure it’s helped playing with Markus all these years; it makes my job out there easier.
“Every time we step on the ice it seems to get easier, knowing where each other is and playing in all these tournaments and being able to showcase ourselves. We got to separate ourselves from the rest, and that got us off to a good start and has brought us to where we are.”
The pair were part of minor hockey teams that won a couple of tournaments along the way, including the Coca-Cola Classic in Vernon (in U13), and they were going to go to provincials in Quesnel, but the event was cancelled due to Covid.
They were also members of Team BC at the 2023 WHL Cup where Liam finished first in tournament scoring with 11 points (including seven goals) in five games. Markus placed second in tournament scoring with 10 points (including eight assists) in the five games.
Now, Markus and Liam, who both stand in at five-foot-11 and 155 and 165 pounds, respectively, will be teammates on Team Canada and, eventually, with the Medicine Hat Tigers, where Liam has already skated in two games, and Markus in one. Markus was taken 21st-overall after the Tigers traded up to complete the Ruck package deal at the 2023 WHL Draft after Liam was selected with the ninth-overall pick.
“I can’t wait for it. It’s going to be so cool putting on that (Canada) jersey,” said Markus, who found out he and his brother were selected to the national team while in school. “It’s going to be amazing. I’ve dreamed of that forever.”
The pair – who were shortlisted to a Top 100 grouping – before scouts and Team Canada staff kept eyes on players throughout the season.
“It should be a lot of fun and I’m really excited,” said Liam, who plays right-wing with his twin at centre. “We’ve never been to that side of the world. It’ll be a great experience for us to see what all these other countries have for players and how it compares to us.
“Just being out there should be a good experience and seeing the country will be fun. Everyone dreams of that as a kid here in Canada, representing the country, and it’s going to be exciting throwing that jersey on for the first time.”
Mario Annicchiarico is a freelance writer based in Victoria who has previously covered the National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers, as well as the Western Hockey League.