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Hockey: Ruth, Cole play for U.S. in World Junior tourney

Sam Werner | Friday, January 30, 2009

While the rest of the Notre Dame hockey team got some well-deserved recovery time over the Christmas break, there was no such breather for sophomores Ian Cole and Teddy Ruth, who played on the United States National Junior team in the 2009 IIHF World Championships in Canada.

Cole tallied two goals and two assists in six games for the U.S. team, which finished in fifth. Ruth didn’t score any points, but managed to lead the team in penalty minutes, thanks largely to a 20-minute game misconduct he received in the third period of the Americans’ overtime win against the Czech Republic in the fifth-place game.

Both players said the speed of the international game was the most noticeable difference from American college hockey.

“It’s just so much faster up there,” Ruth said. “You’ve got to think faster and move the puck quicker.”

Team USA started the tournament hot, beating Germany 8-2, the Czech Republic 4-3 and Kazakhstan 12-0 before its much-anticipated group stage finale against Canada. Both Cole and Ruth said that game was the highlight of their World Junior experience.

“[My favorite moment was] coming out of the tunnel and getting on the ice surface for the Canada game,” Cole said. “And seeing that sea of red, except for the small pocket of maybe 50 people, mostly just our parents. It was absolutely electric.”

“It’s probably the biggest game I’ll ever play in,” Ruth said. “Unless I play in the Stanley Cup finals someday.”

Team USA jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period, but Canada tied the game up before the stanza was over. The teams traded goals at the beginning of the second, and Canada scored again to take a 5-4 lead going into the third. USA pushed hard to tie the game in the third, but two empty netters from the Canadians put the game out of reach.

“Even though we lost, the atmosphere up there was unbelievable,” Ruth said.

In the quarterfinals of the medal round, the U.S. fell 5-3 to Slovakia despite a powerplay goal from Cole. Canada ended up winning the gold medal.

“Obviously we would have liked to finish better than fifth,” Cole said. “I think we were the best team there, we just didn’t put it together when it counted in the medal round.”

Despite the disappointing result, Cole said he would take some things away from the international tournament, most notably the ability to approach all games the same way.

“Against Canada, there were 22,000 people screaming, but it was just another game,” he said. “So I’m trying to take that back here, too. Hopefully we’ll make it farther and play in some bigger venues. I love the Joyce Center, but it’s not exactly where you want to end your season.”

This was Cole’s second year on the team; he also played on the U.S. team that finished fourth in the Czech Republic last year.

“Last year, being an underage guy, I didn’t have as big a role as I did this year,” he said. “It was definitely a different role for me, but I just approached it like I do any other game. I just try and make plays when I can.”

It was Ruth’s first year playing on the team, and Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said he can already see improvement.

“Last year, when Ian played in the World Juniors, he came back a little bit better,” Jackson said. “And I’m sensing that from Teddy right now.”

Joining Ruth and Cole on the U.S. team were two players the Irish will be facing this weekend. Michigan forwards Matt Rust and Aaron Palushaj notched four and five points, respectively, for team USA. Not to worry, though, Ruth said that any camaraderie between the players would stay off the ice this weekend.

“Me and Palushja and Rust are pretty good friends,” he said. “But when you get on the ice you don’t have any friends. I mean, me and Palushaj probably hate each other more than anybody else when we’re on the ice.”

Palushaj is leads the Wolverines in points with 31, and Rust has netted five goals of his own this year.

Cole said that he planned to take advantage of tendencies he noticed while playing with the duo in Canada.

“Palushja likes to dangle a little bit,” he said. “So I’ve just got to make sure to watch the body on him or he’ll make you look stupid.”