They were standout penalty killers for the Michigan hockey team. Two former and one current Wolverine — each responsible for the minor details that didn’t jump out of the box score at the end of the night.
From blocking shots and shutting down the opponents’ top line to winning timely face-offs with seconds left on the clock, Michigan assistant coach Mel Pearson recalled a duo of past Wolverines as a perfect comparison to Michigan’s prototypical defensive forward today — junior Matt Rust.
“(Rust) is a cross between Jed Ortmeyer and Dwight Helminen,” Pearson said. “Dwight was a great skater, really good defensive player. And Jed was just unbelievable — blocked shots, put his body on the line, and Rusty does that.”
Both Ortmeyer and Helminen are still in the process of establishing themselves in the NHL as Rust leads a Wolverine team that is trying to make it to the NCAA Tournament for the 20th-straight year. The two older Michigan products played for Wolverine coach Red Berenson in the early 2000s. Ortmeyer graduated from the University in 2003 and Helminen left after his junior season a year later.
And Rust, a product of the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, has shown a multitude of similarities to these past Wolverines.
“It starts with hockey sense and hockey smarts,” Pearson said. “He anticipates plays instead of just reacting to them, and he’s got that bulldog mentality on the ice.”
With just under five minutes left in the second period of Saturday’s game against Alaska, Rust wheeled his way behind the Nanooks’ net, looking for freshman Kevin Lynch in the low slot. Rust spun on a dime, in order to throw a forehand pass out to a wide-open Lynch, who then flipped the puck over goaltender Scott Greenham’s glove.
Rust then won a faceoff in the Nanook zone with about three minutes remaining in the game. Junior defenseman Chad Langlais corralled the puck and slid a wrist shot on the ice that made its way past Greenham’s five-hole, capping off a two-goal comeback to force the game into overtime.
The two plays, though maybe minor in the scope of the whole season, are what the Wolverines need more of, not only from Rust, but from the entire roster. Despite Rust’s performance in recent games, coach Red Berenson was quick to note how his first-line center should have more goals at this point in the season.
“He didn’t have as good an offensive weekend (against Alaska) as he could have, because that line (of freshman Kevin Lynch, Rust and junior Carl Hagelin) generated some two-on-ones,” Berenson said. “He had three glorious chances to score this weekend, and if he had a really good weekend, he would have scored on those chances.”
The Bloomfield Hills, Mich. native is second on the team in scoring, with seven points in his last seven games. Rust could be one of the leading forces necessary for a late Wolverine surge with just six weeks left in conference play.
But it could be Rust’s loose demeanor and carefree mentality that has had one of the biggest impacts on the Wolverines. The ability for Rust to maintain a positive, upbeat atmosphere in the locker room, especially during a roller-coaster season, is a welcome contribution to any team. And no one would know Rust’s character better than teammate and best friend, junior Louie Caporusso.
“He’s a funny kid,” Caporusso said. “Me and him can go all day and talk about whatever and have a laugh about it. … He’s a great dancer. He can dance to Fergie like no one else.”