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Alwin J. Ruelle, 84; Bruins’ longtime team photographer

By Marvin Pave
Globe Correspondent / August 7, 2011

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When the Boston Bruins’ 1970 Stanley Cup championship team held its 40th reunion at the Legends Club at the TD Garden, one of the most popular people in the room was Alwin J. Ruelle, the team’s official photographer for nearly four decades.

“There were a lot of hugs given to him by the players that night,’’ recalled Mr. Ruelle’s son, Mark, “and it was another reason why I was proud to call him my father.’’

A former three-sport athlete at Malden High School whose photos are displayed at the Sports Museum of New England and the baseball and hockey halls of fame, Mr. Ruelle is considered one of the greatest sports photographers in Boston history by Sports Museum curator Richard Johnson.

“He is a part of Bruins history,’’ said Johnson, “and because he was very much like the players he chronicled, humble and down to earth, they respected him.’’

Mr. Ruelle, a lifetime Malden resident who also found grace and beauty away from the rink through photographs that included a blooming rose outside his kitchen window, died of cancer July 31 at his home. He was 84.

“I go way back with Al when I came to the Bruins in the 1950s,’’ recalled 1970 team captain Johnny Bucyk, “and he was willing to take any picture you wanted. He loved hockey, he was generous, and he gave me many of his Bruins pictures. During his illness, he still returned to the Garden watch a game and be with friends.’’

Mr. Ruelle, who took a course that included a new technology - strobe lighting - from Dr. Harold Edgerton at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, helped Edgerton experiment with strobe lights at Boston Garden. That experience led to his employment with the Bruins, who set up his darkroom behind the stadium seats.

“Al was truly a pioneer in the taking of hockey action photos. Back in the 1970s, lighting was generally inadequate, and rinks were shaped differently than today,’’ recalled retired Bruins executive Nate Greenberg. “Whenever you needed pictures to go with a program story, Al would come up with a terrific selection. It was really an art form to do what he did.

“As good a photographer as he was, Al was just as good a person,’’ Greenberg said. “On the day he passed I looked around my home and saw many pictures he had taken, from my wedding photos of 30 years ago to my daughter and me skating at a team Christmas party in the early 1980s. From superstar players to the working staff, Al treated everyone the same.’’

Former Bruins coach, president, and general manager Harry Sinden said Mr. Ruelle, who took photographs at the weddings of Sinden’s three daughters, enjoyed sharing his expertise with Bruins players.

“They trusted him and had a great banter going with Al, who was always willing to show them how to use their new cameras before the days of digital photography,’’ said Sinden. “He really was one of them, although he was a kind of stay-in-the-background person.’’

That giving nature was recalled by his son Mark, who lives in Westford and was a hockey goalie at St. Sebastian’s School in Needham and at the University of Denver.

“I also attended Cardigan Mountain School, a private school in New Hampshire where I played hockey,’’ he said. “During one of our games, I looked into the stands and my dad was there. The trip was ½two hours from Boston, and then he turned around and drove home. That moment took my breath away, and I talked about it with him shortly before his passing.

“I told Dad I was there for him because he had always been there for me and our family. He said, ‘Yes, they were good times.’ ’’

Mr. Ruelle’s other son, Alwin Jr. of Westford, has been a penalty timekeeper at Bruins home games since 1985 and played hockey at Malden High and Framingham State College.

“You couldn’t walk halfway around the Boston Garden with him without countless people stopping to say hello,’’ he said. “He loved what he was doing, but he loved the friends he made there even more.’’

Bruins legend Milt Schmidt was one of them.

“There was never a player or anyone associated with the Bruins that said a bad word about him,’’ said Schmidt. “When I think of Al, all I can say is he was nothing but the best.’’

Mr. Ruelle also worked as a freelance photographer for the Celtics, Red Sox, and Patriots and for local colleges and high schools. He also passed on his love for photography to his daughter Cathy Ruelle-Dalquist of Longmeadow.

His oldest daughter, Paula Ruelle of Ipswich, was the subject of the first photograph Mr. Ruelle had published in the Malden Evening News, when she was a 3-year-old cheerleading mascot at Malden High.

Mr. Ruelle was a hockey and baseball captain at Malden High whose skills as a shortstop nearly resulted in a contract from the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, after earning enough credits for his diploma, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in February 1945. His professional baseball career never materialized.

He was trained to be a pilot, but when World War II ended, Mr. Ruelle was assigned to take aerial photographs.

That training proved invaluable for Mr. Ruelle, who was also an official photographer for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for 40 years. In that role, he took aerial shots of streets and highways and photographed potential sites for state buildings. The photographs were converted into blueprints.

“He was a talented artist,’’ said Mr. Ruelle’s daughter Donna Ruelle-Fitzpatrick of Malden, “and he enjoyed painting and taking photos of his Air Force buddies and their planes. That’s when his passion for photography blossomed. Dad loved it when the players complimented him on his work, because he liked to make people happy and he had a particular affection for the Bruins teams of the 1970s and ’80s.’’

He met his wife, Dorothy (Gately), while ice skating at Malden’s Linden Park as a teenager. They were married for 62 years.

“Al would see beauty where someone else might not,’’ she recalled. “We’d be driving and he’d stop the car to photograph a farmhouse or country scene. The photo he took of the rose has been blown up and now hangs in our condo in West Palm Beach. You can see the dew on the leaves. He called it ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ and you want the flower to walk out of the picture because of its beauty.’’

Mr. Ruelle, who briefly attended Springfield College after returning from the Army in 1946, thought about going into coaching but opted to take an extension course taught by Edgerton. He eventually coached CYO hockey and baseball at St. Joseph’s Church in Malden and taught courses through the Christian Family Movement.

In addition to his wife, two sons, and three daughters, Mr. Ruelle leaves his sister, Anita Mancini of Richmond, Va.; 11 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

A service has been held.

Marvin Pave can be reached at marvin.pave@rcn.com.