Tuesday, May 21, 2013
ORONO - In the week leading up to the University of Maine's final home hockey series -- two games against visiting Northeastern that will go a long way toward determining whether the Black Bears will qualify for the Hockey East tournament -- sophomore Jake Rutt of Scarborough was in a bit of a quandary.
Would he play forward, as he had for the previous two weekends?
Would he play defense, as he had for the previous 28 games?
Would he play some of each, depending on whether the penalty box was occupied?
"Basically, my mindset is to do whatever the team needs" Rutt said. "I'm just trying to help and contribute."
Rutt's versatility has been a boon to Coach Tim Whitehead, who also bumped red-shirt freshman Bill Norman from blue line to forward following the loss of Connor Leen (Crohn's disease), Kyle Beattie (concussion) and Joey Diamond (back).
"Jake's a big, strong kid who can skate, who can hit," Whitehead said. "He can put the puck in the net, so he has a scoring touch. He had played a couple games last year (at forward) and he had done well, so we just felt he would make an easier transition than some of the others."
On Thursday, Rutt learned he will go back to the blue line, where he had remained for power plays and penalty kills. In the four games against Boston University and UMass-Amherst, when Rutt skated up front during 5-on-5 and on defense for special teams, he collected a goal and four assists.
"He played well up front and on defense in the special teams," Whitehead said. "So that's definitely an option depending on who's injured."
Growing up in Augusta, Rutt played all positions in youth hockey. As a high school freshman, he played at St. Dominic's in Lewiston. He then moved to Scarborough and played forward and defense as a sophomore and junior. Not until he joined the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs did he focus entirely on defense.
"It started with Sean Tremblay, my junior coach," Rutt said. "He saw me as a big, physical, hard-shot defenseman who can move the puck. I just ran with that. He's a very intelligent guy who moves guys to the next level."
Playing defense is a little more stressful, Rutt said.
"You have to read a lot more things and you react a little bit more," he said. "If you make a mistake on the blue line, it could wind up in the back of your net. With a forward, it could just be a minor turnover."
Maine can't afford mistakes. The Black Bears (9-17-6 overall, 5-12-6 Hockey East) are a point behind UMass in the chase for the eighth and final conference tournament berth, and only three points ahead of last-place Northeastern (9-18-3, 5-15-3).
Still, Maine is 7-5-4 since the Christmas break.
"The progress we've made this year since Christmas has been tremendous," Rutt said. "Once we get in the playoffs, I think we're going to make some noise. I don't think anyone wants to play us in the next few weeks."
After this weekend's games against Northeastern, the Black Bears wrap up their regular season with two games next weekend at UNH, which is tied for first with Boston College, Providence and UMass-Lowell.
Saturday's season finale at Alfond Arena will include a pre-game ceremony honoring the seven Maine seniors and their families. After the game, each senior will address the crowd.
"It's a bit like the Academy Awards. You never know what you're going to get," Whitehead said. "Some guys take a humorous approach. Others are more emotional. You never know, but it's always heartfelt."
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: