Commentary: Michigan Wisely Turns To Veteran Goalie

Someone tell the fat lady to shut her mouth. And leave the forks at the table.

The Michigan hockey team is far from done this season, and that’s because Red Berenson made the right decision by naming Noah Ruden the starting goalie for tonight’s game against Ferris State.

Freshman Billy Sauer is not a bad goalie. His 11-6-4 record is nothing to scoff at, especially considering he’s only 18 years old and playing his first full season of Division I college hockey. He shut out a solid Alaska-Fairbanks team, made 42 and 35 saves in games against Miami and Michigan State and had two three-game winning streaks — a feat Ruden cannot lay claim to.

And many forget that by Nov. 22 of last year, Sauer had played well enough to be rated the No. 1 goaltending prospect for the NHL Entry Draft by the Central Scouting Service.

So, then why is Ruden the better choice?

Outside of his record, Ruden has better statistics. For the season, Ruden has a goals against average of 2.83 to Sauer’s 3.04 and a save percentage of .911 to Sauer’s .898.

Still, hockey is played on ice, not on paper. And with playoff hockey, everything is thrown out the door.

But this is Ruden’s last season donning the maize and blue, and it may be the last time in his career he will stand between the pipes (Ruden has never been drafted by an NHL team). One should never underestimate a goaltender who a.) Has something to prove after watching Ferris State embarrass his team on Senior Night and b.) Is on his last hurrah.

As Ruden himself said there is no “we’ll get them next week” if the team loses this weekend. And there may not be anyone on the team that understands this more than Ruden himself. For an entire season, he and Sauer had to deal with Berenson’s goaltending carousel, where a shaky performance one night — let alone an entire weekend — could mean riding the pine. So Ruden is used to playing in a game where he needs to perform well. Ruden is also familiar with the atmosphere of playoff college hockey.

Sure, he hasn’t played a single playoff game in his career at Michigan. But Ruden wasn’t sitting around playing jacks during the Wolverines’ playoff runs in the past three seasons. There have been times throughout this season that both Berenson and Ruden talked about the experience Ruden received while sitting on the bench during the playoffs. He understands the atmosphere. He’s experienced the butterflies that every player feels before a playoff game, whether or not they end up playing. And he has seen exactly what it takes to ignore it all and focus on stopping every shot.

His performance at the Great Lakes Invitational last season is the most telling evidence. The tournament is the closest Ruden has come to playing playoff hockey, and he gave up just three goals in two games and almost led Michigan to the GLI championship. His performance earned him a spot on the GLI All-Tournament team.

Said Berenson of Ruden last season after the GLI: ” He did a good job for us. I thought he really was the backbone of our team back there when he had to be.”

Friday, Ruden will attempt to do the same. The best way to find out if he is ready to help carry the team is to talk to Ruden himself.

“Any goalie that can’t handle the pressure probably shouldn’t be a goalie,” Ruden said. “If you ask any goalie, especially me, that’s why a lot of people like (playing goalie). You’re in the limelight most of the time for the good and for the bad. (The pressure) just adds to the excitement and adds to the fun. It makes it more fun, and that’s the bottom line.”

So let the fat lady know — Noah Ruden is ready to have some fun and ready to help the Wolverines defend their Mason Cup Championship.