As practice drew to a close and all the coaches left the ice, junior second-string goalie Noah Ruden and his fellow back-up goalie, sophomore Mike Mayhew, were five feet apart on their knees. The drill — in which they shoot pucks at each other to help rebound reaction — is part of Ruden’s preparation for his first start of the season.

When junior goalie Al Montoya joins the United States World Junior team later this month, he will leave Ruden to man the pipes during the Great Lakes Invitational at Joe Louis Arena on Dec. 29 and 30.

“It’s tough when you don’t play much, especially in game situations” Ruden said. “Practice is one thing, but you still get rusty in game speed. Mentally, I’m more prepared (for this year’s GLI) because I went through it last year. ”

The drill with Mayhew is part of a plan to make sure Ruden is ready to go when the puck drops in Michigan’s opening-round game against Michigan Tech.

Last season, in a GLI opening-round matchup with then-No. 2 Boston University, Ruden faced 38 shots and the then-No. 6 Wolverines fell 4-1. Last year’s loss was just another in the hang-over that has kept Michigan from taking home the championship since it won nine in a row from 1987 through 1996. Ruden hopes to use what he has learned in his first go-around at the tournament, and put the Wolverines back on top.

“It used to be our tournament back in the 90s,” Ruden said. “We haven’t won it in a while, so it’d be fun to know that what (former Michigan goalie Josh) Blackburn and Montoya, as a freshmen — goalies who have set their marks here — haven’t been able to win it for this team.”

Ruden has made two appearances this season. He came off the bench in Minnesota to stand on his head in the third period, stifling the surge of offense coming from the Golden Gophers. The Wolverines, who held the No. 1 ranking at the time, were peppered with shots by Minnesota. With the score 5-1, Ruden was dispatched to replace Montoya for the final frame, and made 10 saves.

“It’s good to get ice time, and it’s good to play a top-ranked team in the country like (Minnesota),” Ruden said. “It shows to myself and my teammates that I can play in those close games if I have to.”

His teammates took notice. Senior alternate captain Brandon Rogers has watched Ruden in practice for three seasons and said that, as long as Ruden makes the saves, the defense will adjust to the differences between him and Montoya.

“He came in and got thrown into the fire, and he made some big saves in (the Minnesota) game,” Rogers said. “He does a good job getting out of the net when he has to. Not too many goalies will roam around the net like Al does.”

The GLI also gives Ruden an opportunity to show he can play in big games. Last summer, while Montoya mulled over the idea of jumping to the NHL, Ruden almost faced the possibility of having to take over the team’s goaltending duties, or becoming a mentor to an incoming goalie.

“Instead of taking that day off, you make sure you go to the gym or take a run,” Ruden said. “The coaches and the team knew that if (Montoya) were to leave, that I was ready to step in.”

Ruden acknowledged that next summer could be more of the same uncertainty. While he aims to make an impression on the coaches, he also recognizes the importance of his role as Montoya’s backup.

“I want to show the coaches that I can step in when I need to,” Ruden said. “If Al does get hurt, I’m the guy. You know, whatever happens next year — I know there’s rumors still flying about that — if there is a decision, that they give me the nod when the chance comes.”

The coaching staff is also taking notice. Michigan coach Red Berenson and goaltending coach Stan Matwijiw have been impressed with Ruden’s work ethic and his ability to come in on short notice..

“I’m fully confident in Noah’s ability,” Matwijiw said. “He proved to everyone on the coaching staff that he’s fully capable of stepping in and doing more than an ample job for the team after his performance in the third period against Minnesota.”

Rogers recognized nationally: Thanks to his four points against Notre Dame, Rogers was named U.S. College Hockey Online National Defensive Player of the Week..

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