Two goaltenders joined Colorado College this fall. One is 21, the other 25. In hockey years, that’s a big gap.
That’s not the only difference.
True freshman Matt Vernon, 21, is the one aggressively challenging and making athletic saves. Graduate transfer Ryan Ruck, coach Mike Haviland said, is more “compact,” methodical and positionally focused.
Their preparations reflect the same. Ruck takes the time to write out his schedule for game day. He’s superstitious and has had the same pregame routine since 2013.
Vernon says he’s not superstitious, and has to dial down his fervor before game time.
“I don’t want to be too over the top,” Vernon said. “If I’m too intense, I’ll start overthinking plays and making more mistakes.”
Vernon spent the spring helping erase deficits and summoning unknown strength on an Aberdeen Wings (NAHL) team that was tightly bonded and completely dialed in. He was MVP as they won the Robertson Cup. That’s experience the Tigers can use and a feeling that can be replicated.
“I want to play a part in making a team better and hopefully pushing for more championships,” Vernon said.
Haviland said Vernon has been “very impressive” and became the latest to compare the rookie to Alex Leclerc, who enabled the Tigers’ 2018-19 late-season success.
“He’s a guy that’s never going to give up on anything,” Haviland said. “In practice, he makes the second and third saves. You don’t think he’ll be able to do it, but he does it.”
Ruck had a lengthy career before Colorado College. Injuries derailed his time at Northeastern, and once his redshirt was approved, he began looking for another spot to spend his final year of eligibility.
“Never really got my chance again,” Ruck said. “It was nice to turn the page and start over.”
Colorado College was the first school he visited, and he “absolutely fell in love.” It helped that he’d bonded with CC assistant coach Leon Hayward, who lived in the same building while also playing at Northeastern and “could probably sell ice to an Eskimo.”
Vernon and Ruck have put to use their contrasting styles for two months. Whoever starts Friday against Minnesota, of course, is not locked in. Haviland’s looking for a lineup that plays well enough that he can’t justify changing it.
But after playing a period each in CC’s exhibition, a full look certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Because they bring different things to the table, Vernon said he has a lot to learn from Ruck this year. That goes both ways.
“I always take pride in being the very hardest worker possible, and he takes that and doubles it,” Ruck said. “It’s a little bit of a wakeup call, just to continue to not get comfortable and keep pushing.”
Minnesota at Colorado College
Friday marks the 255th meeting between former WCHA rivals CC and Minnesota, but the first since 2013, in the postseason before the Tigers left for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Minnesota holds a 161-85-8 edge in the all-time record.
Haviland said soon after former St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko was hired to coach the Gophers, he called to express interest in a series. Haviland said Motzko loves the Springs.
A team-high five Tigers are from Minnesota. More are on the way, and there are more the coaches want in the future. It made good sense.
“Not that we need to be adding top-20 teams to our nonconference schedule,” Haviland said.
How to watch
Friday’s game starts at 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on AT&T SportsNet. Saturday’s begins at 7 p.m. Both can be viewed with a subscription to nchc.tv, and will be called by Ken Landau on KRDO 105.5 FM/1240 AM.