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Hockey: Ruth works way back to ice from leg injury

Sam Werner | Wednesday, December 2, 2009

As the Irish try to turn the corner and reestablish themselves as a top-flight team in college hockey, they’ll be doing so with a familiar face on the blue line that hasn’t always been there this season.

After missing the first five weeks of the season because of a leg injury, junior defenseman Teddy Ruth returned for Notre Dame three weeks ago against Northern Michigan, and has taken the last six games to get readjusted as the Irish enter the meat of their CCHA schedule.

“I mean my first game back, I was working some serious rust off,” Ruth said. “After that I feel like I’ve picked up things pretty fast.”

After strong freshman and sophomore campaigns, Ruth was considered to be a stalwart of the Irish backline heading into the season. But in the last week of training camp before the season opener against Alabama-Huntsville, the junior went down with what Irish coach Jeff Jackson described as a “fluke injury.”

“I was pretty disappointed,” Ruth said. “I did a lot this summer to prep myself for this year. I changed a lot about myself and my physical ability so I was pretty bummed about it.”

The injury forced the Irish blue line to make adjustments.

“I think we were getting used to everybody during training camp and then a week before the season he gets hurt, so it just threw off the chemistry on the back half,” said senior defenseman Kyle Lawson, Ruth’s defensive partner.

Ruth said after he went down, he talked to former teammate and friend Erik Condra, who suffered a season-ending leg injury in the 2008 CCHA Playoffs.

“[Condra told me] it’s just one of those things that you can’t really control,” Ruth said. “You’ve just got to work through it.”

One of the hardest parts of the injury, Ruth said, was not being with the team, especially as the Irish struggled through a mixed bag of early season results.
Lawson, though, said Ruth, an alternate captain, remained an integral part of the team.

“To be honest, he did a great job, whether it was in between periods or after games, he would just come in and tell guys like it is,” Lawson said. “That’s the type of guy he is. He’s real up front and honest.”

Physically, Ruth said the most difficult step in the recovery process was just getting back in “hockey shape.”

“There’s nothing like hockey,” Ruth said. “You can run and bike as much as you want, but as soon as you touch the ice you’ll be sucking wind like it’s nothing.”
Once he got back into game shape, Ruth said he didn’t have mental problems trusting his leg.

“It was more getting back in the groove, in the pace of things, getting my legs back under me,” Ruth said.

Jackson said the plan was to ease Ruth back into the lineup, but not take away from his hard-nosed style of play.

“We didn’t give him normal minutes right away, but now he’s back to playing 20 minutes a game,” Jackson said. “It’s a matter of him playing to his strengths, being physical and being a force in our end.”

As each game passes, Lawson said the duo gets more and more comfortable with one another.

“Our chemistry has definitely been improving a little bit as well, and he’s only beginning to show what he’s capable of,” Lawson said.

With his return, Ruth also added a boost of much-needed depth to a defensive unit that had been relying primarily on only a handful of key players.

“He’s made a big difference on our back end,” Jackson said. “Not just his presence, but minimizing minutes played by other guys, which has helped those guys be more effective in transition.”

Lawson, though, said Ruth also brings his own unique skill set to the Irish blue line.

“He brings a new dimension to our game,” Lawson said. “Obviously he’s a great physical presence. He’s got a big body and he uses it to his advantage.”

Ruth echoed his defensive partner, saying his injury won’t stop him from playing his own way.

“I try to bring a tough physical presence on the ice,” he said. “I want to get my nose dirty.”