Senior assistant captain Ryan Ruikka has acomplished a lot in his time at BU.
He was on the 2009 national championship team, and although he did not dress for any games that season, he has been named to the Hockey East All-Academic Team four times and he has even scored four goals.
But at 7 p.m. Friday, when the No. 9/11 Boston University men’s hockey team (13–9–1, 10–6–1 Hockey East) drops the puck against the University of Massachusetts at the Mullins Center, Ruikka will do something he has never done as a Terrier — dress as a forward.
BU coach Jack Parker made the decision as a way to get both the fifth-year senior and junior defenseman Patrick MacGregor, a pair of players who have been battling for the last defensive spot, into the lineup.
“Ruikka is a real good offensive guy. He can skate, he moves the puck well,” Parker said. “I was thinking of playing seven defensemen dressed and dress 11 forwards … then I realized I can do the best of both worlds. I can dress Ruikka as a right wing and play him in some spots as a right wing, but also play him on defense.”
Indeed, the plan vs. the Minutemen (9–12–2, 6–9–1 Hockey East) will be to play the fourth line sporadically, with Ruikka getting time as a forward and a defenseman. Parker said having Ruikka available gives the former flexibility in the event a blueliner gets hurt or BU has two defensemen in the penalty box at the same time.
Parker also said getting both Ruikka and MacGregor in the lineup for Monday’s Beanpot semifinal game against Northeastern was a factor.
Other than Ruikka’s sudden position change, not much will change for BU. Sophomore forward Evan Rodrigues, who missed a game with an injured hand, and junior assistant captain Garrett Noonan, who was suspended for both games last weekend, will return to their usual spots.
In net, freshman Sean Maguire will get the start for the Terriers, with classmate Matt O’Connor slated to start Monday.
Far less obvious, though, is UMass’s situation between the pipes. John Micheletto also has goaltending questions on his hands.
A pair of sophomores, Kevin Boyle and Steve Mastalerz, have gotten the bulk of the time in net. Boyle’s 2.60 goals-against average and .900 save percentage would seem to give him the edge, but after an ugly 5–4 loss to Providence College Jan. 11, Micheletto gave Mastalerz a shot after he missed nearly two months due to a knee injury.
Mastalerz (3.42 GAA, .868 save percentage) has played the last four games, putting up a 2–2 record in the process. He lost to PC but helped UMass top Boston College before splitting two games at the University of Vermont.
No stranger to not having a clear No. 1 goalie, Parker said the unstable goalie situation can be tough on a team.
“It hurts any team if you don’t have great goaltending,” Parker said. “You need a goalie that’s got a .930 save percentage and a 2.2 goals-against average … If you don’t have that, you’re not going to be successful.”
On the other end the Minutemen have a few threats, most notably junior forwards Branden Gracel (11g, 11a) and Conor Sheary (5g, 12a). There is also always the threat of another junior forward, Mike Pereira, brother of former Terrier captain Joe Pereira.
Above all else, though, is UMass’ speed, which Parker raves about each time his squad takes on the Minutemen.
“They are the fastest skating team in this league,” Parker said before saying UMass is a potential top-four team in the conference. “It’s a big pond up there, so they will take advantage of that. But they don’t just cruise around and skate, they will work hard, they will bump you. It will be like playing a faster Providence team.”
Friday’s game will be a big one, and not just for the implications on the conference standings. It is BU’s final tune-up before the all-important Beanpot, and another chance for the Terriers to continue to climb out of what Parker has termed their “grand funk” early second semester.
And it will be Ruikka’s debut up front, of course.
“He looked great, especially [Thursday]. We finally got to do some stuff that included line rushes and things like that,” said junior forward Sahir Gill. “He looked comfortable. He’s a real smart player and he’s skilled and he’s capable. I don’t think he looked out of place at all.”
Wade Megan – Cason Hohmann – Sahir Gill
Matt Nieto – Danny O’Regan – Evan Rodrigues
Matt Lane – Ben Rosen – Sam Kurker
Mike Moran – Ryan Santana – Ryan Ruikka
Sean Escobedo – Alexx Privitera
Garrett Noonan – Matt Grzelcyk
Ahti Oksanen – Patrick MacGregor