Senior Noah Ruden has always received cheers when he has been on the ice. But for three and a half years, they were the cheers that Al Montoya’s backup gets. You know what I’m talking about. The polite “Oh yay, isn’t it great that Noah’s getting some minutes,” cheers.
He wasn’t supposed to start. Montoya was Michigan’s glory boy, heralded as the next Steve Shields or Marty Turco. Ruden was the next Kevin O’Malley, L.J. Scarpace or Chris Gordon. You don’t know who they are? My point exactly.
And after Montoya led the United States junior team to its first world championship, he was almost untouchable. Then, once he left Michigan for the Hartford Wolfpack – an affiliate of the New York Rangers – freshman Billy Sauer was heralded as the next Al Montoya.
Sauer earned his starts early in the season, but he has looked uncomfortable during recent games, opening the door for Ruden.
Ruden is receiving cheers again these days, but they’re more like the ones he heard the fans give Montoya. Lately, he’s been responsible for keeping Michigan afloat in games. Last night was no different.
Throughout the first period, the Wolverines dominated. They created easy shots and potted three goals. But once the second period started, it was Western Michigan that was getting the easy chances. Not the turnaround you want to see, but Ruden put on a highlight show, making key saves on point blank shots.
At one point, the Broncos found their way into the Michigan zone and created several short-handed chances from close range that Ruden managed to turn aside. And just a few minutes later, Ruden was forced to stop two point-blank shots, including one by Western Michigan’s star forward Brent Walton.
With 9:32 remaining in the game, Ruden finally cracked. Walton slotted a short-handed goal past him from just in front of the net. The officials had signaled a delayed penalty, but Walton was wide open and slid one past Ruden before Michigan could touch the puck.
Ruden would have loved a shutout, but he can take pride in calming the storm called Michigan hockey. The past month has been a tumultuous time for the Wolverines, but Ruden has been consistent in the net. This past weekend, he was peppered with 41 shots by Ohio State – including many on odd-man rushes – but he came up with a career-high 39 saves.
And at Lawson Arena last night, he gave up just one goal and made 25 saves in the process.
Though cheers might not have been the same at a road game, the handful of Michigan fans in attendance let Ruden know they appreciated his efforts. There were repeated cheers of “Goalie, Sieve” and “No-ah Ru-den” from a quartet perched at the edge of the Western Michigan student section.
As the clock wound down, the play started to get scrappy, even sloppy, but Ruden still stood tall in the Michigan net. He rarely made a false move, and temporarily looked like he took himself to another world when a fight broke out in front of his net.
His patience is a sign that Ruden did more than look-on and take stats while he sat behind Montoya for three years. Assistant coach Billy Powers said that the coaching staff began seeing signs that Ruden could be a starter last year. He knows that he’s always been ready.
“I thought that I was better than a backup,” Ruden said. “It was just a matter of getting a chance. Some people know that they are going to be backups, but I told myself that I could be more.”
And how right he was. His record doesn’t necessarily speak to his play. Despite the fact that he is just 3-3 since earning regular starts in January, Ruden’s more impressive numbers are his saves. In his five starts, he stopped 35, 26, 31, 39 and 25 saves.
Ruden has a simple philosophy going into each game: he wants to give his team the chance to win. If he continues to turn aside more than 30 shots a game, he will certainly be successful in accomplishing that goal.
Dowd can be reached at email@example.com