Ryan Ruck, the Northeastern goaltender, stoned No. 4 Boston College men’s hockey for much of two teams’ tilt at Matthews Arena last week. Although the Eagles came away with a 2-1 win, thanks to a last-second shorthanded goal by Michael Kim, Ruck withstood the attack of the Beacon St. Bullies. He hasn’t had a lot of those games, with a save percentage below .900 on the year. But at last, it looked like the Huskies got enough out of their goaltender to turn around the poor start to their season. After all, that’s what Northeastern did last year on its magical run to the Hockey East Championship.
Yet on Tuesday night at Kelley Rink, it took J.D. Dudek 77 seconds to expose Ruck.
As students slowly trickled in, using hockey as an excuse to shirk their last-second finals responsibilities, the Eagles went on the attack. Colin White flew down the ice, pausing in front of Ruck to dish the puck to Matthew Gaudreau parked behind the net. Gaudreau saw Dudek quickly coming in between the circles.
Dudek went bar-down, gloveside, helped by a screen from White. The goal was pretty to watch, though not particularly unsaveable. But it helped Dudek unlock Ruck’s secret: just go top shelf.
In a 5-3 win over their crosstown rivals, the Eagles took the high road with four goals above Ruck’s head, two of which came from Dudek. With the victory, BC (13-5-1, 8-0-1 Hockey East) continues its undefeated tear through the conference. With points in each of their nine games, the Eagles are off to their best start in conference play. And for Northeastern (5-7-4, 1-6-2) head coach Jim Madigan, the frustration in between the pipes continues.
“He’s got to be better,” Madigan said of his netminder.
Not long after Dudek’s goal, Zach Walker followed the formula. He took advantage of a terrible cross-ice pass from Northeastern’s Dylan Sikura, and easily split two defenders. Walker shot high, blocker side and uncontested, to give the Eagles a 2-0 lead.
Sikura quickly made up for his mistake, with help from Zach Aston-Reese. The Staten Island, N.Y. native sent a pass to Sikura in stride, beating Joe Woll.
The Eagles held strong on a four-minute penalty kill following back-to-back penalties on Gaudreau. Northeastern whiffed on a couple of clear chances in front of the net—a common trend of the evening. Meanwhile, Julius Mattila had the best chance to extend BC’s lead. He stole a puck away from Ruck, and for a brief period had a wide-open net. Yet with only bright red and black jerseys around him, Mattila had to hold onto the puck, which helped kill 50 seconds and the NU power play.
Yet Dudek wouldn’t be denied. During a 4-on-2 breakaway, Dudek saw an opening above Ruck’s shoulder. Without anyone to threaten him, Dudek blasted the puck from between the circles, humbly gathering his linemates to the corner in celebration. Head coach Jerry York lauded the play of Dudek, who along with fellow sophomore Christopher Brown, has made a huge impact on this team, especially following the mass exodus of players this summer and the right-ankle injury to Ryan Fitzgerald.
“We lost so many players, and we needed someone to step up,” York said. “Both sophomores, Chris and JD, have played clearly better than they did last year.” Laughing with his rising star, York also suggested that Dudek has been helped because “Coach has been playing him more.”
The only time the Eagles went low against Ruck was on David Cotton’s goal a mere 55 seconds after Dudek’s. The freshman from Parker, Texas broke past defenseman Garret Cockerill. No one came to Cockerill’s aid, allowing Cotton to assault Ruck in the slot. He took two shots that rebounded off Ruck’s pads, before sliding it past him for the 4-1 lead.
Because of the Eagles’ continued penalty problems, the Huskies nearly got back in the game. Jeremy Davies took advantage of a power play brought on by Gaudreau’s fourth penalty of the night, finding Woll out of position on a slick combination play. Halfway through the third, John Stevens scored after a pass from Aston-Reese that was almost identical to Dudek’s first goal. With momentum swinging away, it appeared BC was in for another third-period swoon.
Yet Scott Savage remembered Ruck’s Achilles heel. With White screening Ruck in front, Gaudreau sent a perfect cross-crease pass to Savage, who went bar down for the dagger. Dudek later explained that, though the Eagles won with this strategy, it wasn’t part of the game plan. They simply exploited what was foolishly given to them by Ruck.
“It’s just what he gave us,” Dudek said. “We saw that he was off his angle a lot, and that won’t go unnoticed. We got a lot of good players who can find what he gave us.”
Now, the real challenge begins. Tuesday was the final home game for the Eagles until Jan. 16, 2017 against Boston University. They’ll take on Notre Dame, Quinnipiac, Robert Morris or Ferris State, and Providence. Three of those games will be at neutral sites: the middle two at Consol Energy Arena in Pittsburgh, and the last vs. the Friars at Fenway Park. During this stretch, the Eagles may have to go without several of their top players because of the World Junior Championships. This list will likely include Casey Fitzgerald, Woll, White, and the Mattila brothers. Yet York, never one to panic, has little fear in what lies ahead. Even if his guys don’t all have NHL teams next to their names on the roster, he knows where they stand.
“We might not be the most talented team in the league, but we certainly work as a team,” York said, “and I think that’s a big, big part of success.”
As long as Dudek keeps taking the high road on the league’s goaltenders, BC should have a lot more success.
Featured Image by Lizzy Barrett / Heights Staff