By JOSH BERHOW
Hockey is family.
It’s bundled-up parents taking their turn in the carpool on freezing weekday mornings.
It’s moms and dads picking up that extra shift to pay for that expensive dry-land camp.
And, perhaps more than anything, it’s being there for a fellow hockey family when needed most.
Faribault’s hockey family was a big one on Tuesday night.
On its last home game of the regular season, a 4-2 non-conference win over Dodge County on Senior Night, the Falcons played for Tom VonRuden, the father of the team’s leading scorer, junior Christian VonRuden. On Thursday Tom was diagnosed with Grade 4 Astrocytoma, which is a form of brain cancer. Tom had surgery to remove a large tumor from his brain on Jan. 29, which was just a couple of days after he initially visited the doctor feeling ill.
The VonRuden family broke the news of the diagnosis to Christian not long after he scored the game-winning goal in overtime in the Falcons’ 7-6 win over Mankato East on Thursday. It had been tough for Christian — and the rest of the family, for that matter — in the days leading up to the diagnosis, wondering what was making Tom, a strong and resilient man, ill.
During a game against Rochester John Marshall on Jan. 28, Christian had to leave the ice a couple of times during warm-ups to compose himself. It was the first game in a while his dad, who was preparing for surgery the next day, had missed. (Christian scored the team’s only goal in the first period, and he has a team-leading 24 this season.)
“The last thing (Christian) did was leave (the hospital) and go play hockey,” said Adam VonRuden, Christian’s older brother. “There were a lot of questions.”
But, according to his family, watching Christian play hockey has been therapeutic for Tom, who is also the president of Faribault’s Blue Line Club. Tom was in the stands of the Faribault Ice Arena with his wife, Dede, three other children – Adam, Sammy and Mikayla – and more than 40 family members ranging from siblings, uncles, nieces and nephews for Tuesday’s game. It was easy to tell what section they were in when Christian just missed a chance at a third-period goal.
“It was good to see a large contingent to support Team VonRuden,” said Falcons coach Dean Weasler. “There was a lot going on tonight, and there are things in life that are a lot more important than hockey.”
Tuesday’s game was a fundraiser for what the Faribault hockey family has called Team VonRuden. Team VonRuden shirts were all over the packed arena on a night that was without question the biggest home crowd of the season. Cars had to find parking in the Faribault Aquatic Center lot across the street.
“This is just overwhelming, the support,” said Dede VonRuden, whose son Adam then listed off the various outlets where people have been showing support, including Facebook, CaringBridge, text messages, emails and phone calls. “Tom is in shock. He’s really in shock. Both because he found out he has cancer, but he’s so in shock just of the support that’s coming his way.”
The goal for the night was to support a friend and raise some money. It was a success.
Luminaries were available for purchase for $10 and there was a bucket drop donation collecting funds. ‘Tom’s Tasty Tacos’ were on sale at the concession stands, where all the proceeds went to Team VonRuden. (With so many people in attendance, the tacos were sold out before the game started.) Paracord bracelets were also sold to raise money but were sold out, and more will become available in the future at the arena and at Bethlehem Academy.
The luminaries, about 400 of them, were lit between the second and third periods and placed surrounding the glass of the rink. At the same time Faribault’s varsity coaches and players lit candles and formed a large ‘TV’ between the blue lines, the initials of Tom VonRuden. They sat there for about three minutes while music played with the lights off.
Blue Line Club member Amy Selly estimated more than $4,000 was raised, and that was with two periods still left to be played. Faribault’s KGP Companies also offered to match whatever was raised throughout the night.
“It’s important to show support for someone who does so much for the Blue Line Club,” Selly said. “Most of us have been together since our kids were 5 or 6, so it’s important to give back like (Tom) has.”
But the Blue Line Club has done more than just raise money. It was behind a coach bus driving to Medford and picking up the VonRuden family on Saturday on its way to watch the Falcons beat the Winhawks 7-2 in Winona (with dad back in the stands, Christian had a hat trick and six points).
“I don’t even know how to explain what they have done for Tom and us,” Dede said. “The hockey families have been amazing.”
On Tuesday, the Falcons (10-10-2, 6-9-1 Big 9) received first-period goals from Tyler Becker and Josh Nawrocki and never trailed Dodge County (9-12-3) en route to their fourth straight win. Kyle Quinnell scored to give Faribault a 3-1 lead before Dodge County came within one with a power-play goal at 7:25 of the third. But Isaiah Brogden’s breakaway goal with 1:19 to play sealed the win. Adam Johannsen picked up the victory in net. Faribault’s next game is at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday in Austin.
“We wanted to win that for Tom and Christian and all their family,” Brogden said. “I have known Christian since I was little, and I love hanging out with him, and his family is great. We just needed to win that one.”
Before the players and coaches lit the candles on the ice during the second intermission, Blue Line Club Vice President Troy Dunn, also the Rice County Sheriff and a good friend of Tom VonRuden, said a few words to the arena about what kind of a man Tom is and what he’s battling.
Then, just before the lights went out and the music turned on, he finished his speech.
“Tom,” Dunn said, “we got your back.”