Men's Hockey: Hometown hero makes collegiate debut
Durham native Ryan Randall has been on the UNH men's hockey team for a full two and a half years.
Saturday afternoon, though, he had trouble sleeping for his pregame nap. The excitement overwhelmed him. In a few hours, the defenseman would finally be lacing up his skates and hitting the ice for his first collegiate hockey game.
"It's definitely being able to say I accomplished my dream," Randall said after the game. "Whether people doubted me or supported me, it's an unbelievable feeling to know that I was able to get out there against the odds."
The former Oyster River Bobcat skated in three shifts during Saturday night's 2-1 loss to Vermont- one in the first period, two in the second.
"Two and a half [shifts]," Randall corrected, smiling. "I broke my stick on the second one."
Saturday night's game at the Whittemore Center was one where talented UNH forward Grayson Downing would not be in the lineup, having suffered a shoulder injury the night before. A win and a Maine loss would give the Wildcats fourth place in Hockey East, and though Randall's single shot on goal was a miniscule part of the game, head coach Dick Umile appreciated his effort and was glad to finally put him in the lineup.
"He's a kid who works hard," Umile said. "He's a member of the team, he's respected by the team, he got out there several times and did a solid job for us, so good for him. I'm happy for him."
Randall was recruited by UNH a little over three years ago while playing for the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs [EJHL]. He was called by the school a few days before Christmas of 2010, a week Randall remembered well. The day he got the call, he talked to his Jr. Monarchs coach.
"[My coach] was like, 'Ryan, they're not going to invite you in two days before Christmas to tell you that you're not going there,'" Randall said.
But Randall's dream of playing for his hometown Wildcats proved slow to fulfill. In his freshman and sophomore years, he practiced hard with the team only to watch his teammates take the ice without him.
Then, Saturday morning came. At the team breakfast at Holloway Commons, the lineup was announced. Randall's name was called.
Fist bumps to Randall's arm ensued. His teammates were proud.
"Everyone loves him," UNH forward Matt Willows said. "He works hard, and it's good to see him out there."
"You've just got to tip your hat to guys like that," forward Nick Sorkin said. "They don't get their opportunities, and, you know, they work so hard, and they're at 8 a.m. workouts every day, still working hard in practice, you know, doing the extra reps at the end, so I'm glad he finally got his opportunity. I think he did pretty well."
The Wildcats try to simulate live game intensity during their practices, but Randall acknowledged the difference between a teammate in a morning skate and a Vermont Catamount ready to take his head off on game night.
"I see [UNH forward Grayson] Downing come on down on me when he dumps the puck in [during practice] and I know he's not going to absolutely bury me," Randall said, "But say one of the Catamounts dumped it in on me, and I know they're going to want to hit me as hard as they can, and so it's obviously a completely different mentality."
Even though Randall hadn't taken a live game hit in over two years, he wasn't too nervous about getting slammed into the boards.
"I've been crushed enough times in my career growing up that I wasn't too worried about it," Randall said. "I know I can take a hit."
Despite not getting an opportunity to play in all this time as a Wildcat, Randall said he never considered leaving the team. He credited his teammates for that attitude, as well as his family. His mother Vicki and brother Craig, a pharmacist at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover, were part of the sellout crowd Saturday night for Randall's long awaited debut.
"There wasn't really that thought [of quitting] in my mind," Randall said. "The guys on the team, and coaches also, guys every single day telling me to 'keep trucking', 'keep trying', 'we need you' and, you know, everyone's always been so supportive of me, especially my mom and my brother. They're there for me every single day. 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."
Randall's teammates made sure to razz him on Saturday, too. When Randall's turn came to take his first pregame warm up shot, one fellow Wildcat skated up beside him and slashed his stick.
"[Dan] Correale just gave me a little hack so I couldn't get the shot off," Randall said. He laughed as he recalled. "He just looked at me and smiled, you know, just kind of lighten the mood. Because, obviously, still a little nervous going out even though you've warmed up a hundred times."
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