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Although treating opponents with respect has long been an NCAA sportsmanship ideal, it has often been lost on Harvard opponents when commenting on Crimson junior goaltender Jessica Ruddock this year.
As Harvard’s starting netminder this season, Ruddock has posted the top record in the nation at 25-2-1, the nation’s second-best goals against average at 1.49, and the ECAC regular season’s second-best save percentage at .922. She is also far and away the team leader in the ignoble category of drawing public criticism.
Comments made by Dartmouth captain Carly Haggard during a first intermission interview with NESN reporter A.J. Mleczko’97-’99 were typical of the criticism Ruddock has endured this season. At the time, Dartmouth was ahead 3-0—the first time Ruddock had surrendered three goals in a period all season.
“It looks like their goalie’s pretty shaky, so we want to keep getting shots on her,” Haggard said. Her words were broadcast across the Boston area.
Ruddock did not escape unscathed from Saturday’s press conference following the Crimson’s 10-3 win over Brown either.
“I felt like we were in [the game] because it seemed like everything we were throwing at the net was getting bobbled or might have gone in.” said Brown coach Digit Murphy, referring to a point in the game when the score was 5-3.
Following a 4-1 win over Princeton in February, Harvard coach Katey Stone said Ruddock’s 21-save effort on 22 shots was solid. Princeton captain Nikola Holmes did not concur.
“Their goalie is their weak link,” Holmes said to the Daily Princetonian. “We just didn’t capitalize on our opportunities.”
Ruddock has had plenty of opportunity to earn respect from opposing coaches. Two years ago, she stopped 27 of 30 shots to help Harvard to a 4-3 overtime Beanpot win over a Northeastern team with All-American Erik Silva in net. Prior to Northeastern’s 4-0 defeat in December, Woog made her opinion of Ruddock clear.
“We feel we have the stronger goaltending than Harvard—by far,” Woog said.
Ruddock is naturally the Crimson’s easiest target for criticism, given its Olympians at the defensive and forward positions. While Ruddock is not an Olympian, no one else in U.S. college hockey has a goaltender with Olympic experience either.
Ruddock has always taken the heat in stride.
“I think it’s a huge advantage for us when opposing teams see [me] as a weak spot,” Ruddock said following the Northeastern shutout. “It distracts their focus.”
Ruddock’s confidence shows in her ability to speak humorously about her own mistakes.
In a 3-2 win over Dartmouth her freshman year, Ruddock once let a puck slip behind her when she was out of the crease. Defenseman Pamela Van Reesema saved the day by racing back and knocking the puck into Ruddock’s pads.
“That was just for fun,” Ruddock said. “I like to entertain the crowd.”
In a 2-1 win over Providence this December, Ruddock inadvertently directed a soft puck, cleared softly on net, behind herself. The game would have been tied had she not dived back on top of it.
“I tried to do two things at once, stop the puck and pass it, and I deflected it,” Ruddock said. “But I thought it was the save of the game—saving my own shot.”
Everything They Needed
As much as opponents would like to label Ruddock a weak link, her teammates feel her clutch play helped the Crimson reach and maintain its No. 1 ranking.
In the one game this season where Harvard has been outshot—a 2-1 win over two-time defending champion Minnesota-Duluth—Ruddock stopped 28 of 29 shots, including multiple breakaways.
“She came up huge in key situations,” said captain Angela Ruggiero. “She earned us our ‘W.’”
Harvard first earned its No. 1 ranking following a 3-2 win over Brown in December. The highlight of the game was when she stopped a half-ice breakaway from Brown captain Kim Insalaco.
“That was a pivotal point of the game for us,” Stone said.
During Harvard’s 27-game unbeaten streak, the only blemish came in a 3-3 tie at St. Lawrence in February. Ruddock stopped several 2-on-1’s in that game, including one with only a few seconds left.
“From my perspective, there’s no choice in a game that close,” Ruddock said. “You have to make that save.”
For much of the season, Ruddock has been untested. The Crimson has played great defense all over the ice, which can make it hard to focus. Harvard’s 9-2 win over Dartmouth in November was typical of much of the season. The Crimson allowed just nine shots on net. Both of the goals Ruddock allowed came on breakaways.
“We don’t have to rely on our goaltending as much as we have in the past, which is great,” Stone said.
When Harvard did need a boost in the net in the Duluth and Brown victories or the St. Lawrence tie, Ruddock did come through, causing Stone to say prior to the ECAC final that Ruddock had done everything they needed of her this season.
The 7-2 loss to Dartmouth on Sunday that snapped the Crimson’s 27-game win streak was a different story, however. The defeat was the worst of Ruddock’s career, as she gave up seven goals on 28 shots and was lifted for freshman Ali Boe after two periods. Statistically, she plummeted from eighth to 18th nationally in save percentage after the game.
Captain and defenseman Jamie Hagerman said the responsibility for all of Harvard’s goals lied with the skaters.
“When you get seven goals scored on you in a game some people will look directly to your goalie, but Jesse stopped what she could, and those that she couldn’t, we should have been able to clean them up,” Hagerman said.
Stone said the accountability for those goals was spread among everyone.
“She was not as solid in there, but by the same token no one in front of her was either,” Stone said. “You can’t blame this game on one person. If you do, it’s a cop out in my opinion. She knows she can play better, as do all those kids in front of her."
Ruddock did not do much to help herself either. If she wants to start in her second Frozen Four, Stone says Ruddock will have to continue to prove herself in practice.
"I also like the way Ali Boe played and the two of them are battling for that position this week," Stone said.
—Staff writer David R. De Remer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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