February 14, 2014

Hockey East: Randall relishes long-awaited Wildcat debut

By Andrew Merritt

Junior Ryan Randall (Durham, N.H.) never gave up in his quest to skate in a game for the hometown Wildcats. (Photo by Andrew Merritt/New England Hockey Journal)

DURHAM, N.H. – When Ryan Randall heard his name called during breakfast at Holloway Commons Saturday morning, he quietly pumped his fist – nothing showy, just a little moment of celebration for a guy who’s earned it.

Hearing his name called at breakfast meant that Randall, a Durham, N.H., native, would finally get to dress in a game for his hometown team. UNH was playing the second of two games against Vermont, and after a disastrous opener to the weekend series at the Whittemore Center, coach Dick Umile shook up his lineup.

Included in that shakeup was Randall, a junior at UNH who came to the program after starring at Oyster River High School, where he was named High School Hockey Player of the Year in 2009 by the Foster’s Daily Democrat, and two good years with the EJHL’s New Hampshire Junior Monarchs.

Just before Christmas 2010, Randall got a call from UNH assistant coach Jeff Borek, who wanted him to come to campus. Despite his accolades, Randall had only been lightly recruited, due in part to a position switch while with the Junior Monarchs.

“There wasn’t much conversation,” he said. “When I switched over to defense everyone wanted to wait and see. There were a couple nibbles here and there, and then around Christmas of my second year of junior, coach Borek gave me a call, told me he wanted me to come in for a meeting. I told my coach, Coach (Sean) Tremblay, and he was like, ‘Ryan, they’re not going to call you in two days before Christmas to tell you you’re not going there.’ It all happened so fast, I got the call Monday and I committed on Wednesday.”

Since that speedy commitment, though, Randall has been a background player for UNH, and until Saturday, he had yet to crack the lineup for an official game. For two and a half years, he has joined his Wildcat teammates for early-morning workouts, practices and team meetings, but he’s never gotten a taste of game action.

For some, the disappointment of such an existence can be too much, and an early end to the college career is the better choice. But not for Randall.

“There wasn’t really that thought in my mind, just because of all the guys on the team, the coaches, everybody telling me every single day, ‘keep trucking, keep trying, we need you,’” he said. “Everyone’s been so supportive of me, especially my mom and my brother. They don’t want to see me quit, and I’ve never quit anything in my life, so I really could never imagine doing that.”

To his teammates and his coach, Randall’s willingness to stick with it, even though there was no guarantee he’d ever get to play, has not gone unnoticed.

“He’s got a great attitude,” said junior Matt Willows after Randall’s debut. “Not playing for three years is tough, but he comes to practice every day and works hard, and it shows. He’s gotten so much better, and he got his chance tonight. It’s great to see him out there.”

“It’s tough, but he makes us better every day in practice,” said UNH coach Dick Umile (Melrose, Mass.). “Yeah, he hasn’t played in games, but he makes us better every day. He stuck with it, and here he is, finding himself in a key situation, a key game, and good for him.”

Before the game started, Randall came out to warm up like his teammates have done – without him – dozens of times over the last three years. And he immediately got a hockey hero’s welcome from sophomore winger Dan Correale.

“I went to go for my first shot, and Correale just gave me a little hack so I couldn’t get a shot off,” Randall said with a chuckle. “He just looked at me and smiled at me. Just to lighten the mood, because obviously you get nervous even though you’ve warmed up a hundred times.”

Randall played just three shifts in his debut, which turned out to be a 2-1 loss to UVM. One of those shifts was marred by a broken stick. As far as statistics go, it was nothing memorable – closer to the one inning played by Moonlight Graham in “Field of Dreams” than the climactic sack on the final play of the final game in “Rudy.”

But he got to play those three shifts in front of the hometown crowd, which included his mother, Vickie, and his brother, Craig, a pharmacist who was able to get off of work to see Ryan’s debut.

Randall may not see another minute of game action, though with UNH’s injury woes, anything is possible. Either way, for one night in Durham, the Whittemore Center was home ice in a very real way for one hardworking Wildcat.

Player of the Week

Mike Santaguida, fr., Vermont

Santaguida was given back-to-back starts in a weekend for the first time since Brody Hoffman returned from injury earlier this year, and the rookie showed he’s ready to be a No. 1, making a combined 54 saves on 57 UNH shots in a big road sweep for the Catamounts.

Games of the Week

Boston College at Vermont, Friday and Saturday

The league’s best team travels to play a squad that has gotten to be pretty hot in the last few weeks. The Eagles could clinch the regular season title with a sweep, but the Catamounts have shown an unwillingness to lie down for anybody, and have a shot at moving as many as four spots up from their seventh place standing.

Hockey East power rankings

  1. Boston College (22-4-3, 13-1-1 HEA) – It’s one title down, as many as three to go for the Eagles, whose Beanpot victory marked their 15th game without a loss, the longest unbeaten streak in the nation. They’re 14-0-1 over that stretch, including eight straight wins.

  2. UMass-Lowell (19-7-3, 9-4-2 HEA) – Lowell came out of a weekend against two Hockey East basement dwellers (BU and UMass) with three points, which is good, but probably won’t be enough to keep hope alive for a regular season title repeat, as BC is two wins away from clinching.

  3. Vermont (15-9-3, 7-7-0 HEA) – The Catamounts came out of their weekend off with guns blazing, and led by a combined 54-save effort from freshman Mike Santaguida, swept UNH to close to within three points of third place in Hockey East.

  4. Northeastern (16-10-3, 8-6-1 HEA) – The ugliest weekend of the year for Northeastern yielded a bad loss to UMass on Friday night, followed by a pride-killer in the Beanpot final on Monday.

  5. New Hampshire (16-15-1, 8-8-0 HEA) – Other than a 10-minute stretch in the third period of Saturday’s game, UNH looked nothing like a contender over the weekend, getting swept with relative ease by Vermont.

  6. Providence (15-8-5, 7-6-1 HEA) – PC is mired in a three-game losing streek, and only has two wins in its last 10 games. That includes Tuesday night’s loss to UConn, the 35th-ranked team in the PairWise.

  7. Maine (13-10-3, 7-5-2 HEA) – A 36-save game from Martin Ouellette helped Maine beat Notre Dame Friday night, but two goals in the final 1:08 doomed the Black Bears in the rematch Saturday night in South Bend.

  8. Notre Dame (16-12-1, 5-9-1 HEA) – A controversial goal reversal ruined Notre Dame’s Friday night, but the luck of the Irish came through the next night as a wild finish gave ND its first win in five games.

  9. UMass (8-17-4, 4-9-3 HEA) – The Minutemen pummeled the Northeastern net in Friday’s win, which came on the first career goal for Chestnut Hill, Mass., native Marc Hetnik. The next night, however, UMass-Lowell kept stride with its sister school and UMass suffered its third loss in six games.

  10. Boston University (8-16-4, 3-8-3 HEA) – Just when it doesn’t seem like it could get much worse, BU plumbs the depths. With Monday’s lifeless effort against Harvard, the Terriers have lost back-to-back Beanpot consolation games for the first time in history.

  11. Merrimack (7-16-3, 2-10-2 HEA) – The Warriors doomed themselves Friday, giving up six goals to Boston College before finding the net with less than five minutes to go in a 6-1 loss that matched their most lopsided defeat of the season.