Eric Rud joined the Miami hockey coaching staff in May, bringing with him a myriad of coaching experience at several levels.
Following a stellar career at Colorado College during which the defenseman amassed 22 goals and 90 assists, he logged 319 minor league games in the ECHL, IHL and WCHL.
Rud (pronounced RUDE) was an assistant at both CC and St. Cloud State, and most recently he was the head coach of the SCSU women’s team the past five seasons.
VFTG recently talked to the associate head coach:
VFTG: So head coach Chris Bergeron was obviously the first one hired, and it seemed like almost a given that his assistant and Miami alum Barry Schutte would come to Oxford with him, but you haven’t been a part of the coaching staffs at either Miami or Bowling Green. Can you talk about the process of getting hired at Miami?
RUD: When the job came open, obviously as someone who is an outsider and away from the program, right away when premier jobs like this become open, it kind of piques your interest. Coach Bergeron gave me a call and kind of talked about our mutual interest level for a little bit, and it just kind of worked out.
VFTG: What was your relationship with Coach Bergeron prior to joining the RedHawks’ coaching staff?
RUD: We both kind of got into coaching at similar times. I was in Cedar Rapids of the USHL when he was here at Miami, and a mutual friend of ours – Jeff Blashill, now with the Red Wings obviously – Blash and I played junior hockey together, so we knew each other well, so I got to know Chris through that process a little bit.
VFTG: You played five seasons in the minors with six teams, including a full campaign with Québec City in the old IHL. What was your experience like of bouncing around from team to team?
RUD: I was actually in Cincinnati for the playoffs one year…I didn’t play any games but I was sitting there through that. When I got done with Colorado College I went on and played in San Antonio and Québec City my first year in the IHL. And then my second year started in Cincinnati and then ended up going to Florida and then kind of bounced around that year in Salt Lake City and a couple of places but basically stayed in Florida for two years in the East Coast League. And then after that went to Boise, Idaho, just to experience something new. That was when the IHL folded that year and a bunch of guys all went out to the West Coast League, and it was a great league. It was a really high-end league, it was a small league, and we went to San Diego and Tacoma, Washington, and Bakersfield, Long Beach, Anchorage, Alaska – it was a really fun league. So I was pretty lucky, I was able to play in some really cool spots, and two of my three children were born while I was playing. So my daughter was born in Boise, Idaho, and my son was born in Naples, Florida, then my youngest kind of got the shaft. One born in Naples, Florida, one born in Boise, Idaho – two beautiful spots – then my youngest was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
VFTG: When your playing days were over, you jumped immediately into the coaching side. How were you able to find an opportunity behind the bench?
RUD: I always knew I was going to try coaching. I always knew I had an interest in it, I always paid attention to things, and actually when I was in Florida and with Boise…I was a player-assistant coach also, which was a great experience just to try to make recruiting phone calls, start that process, kind of learn the business a little bit on a small scale. And then I talked to some of my former coaches in the college level and they all kind of pointed me in the direction of trying to get in the USHL. I made a bunch of phone calls and I ended up meeting with (long-time USHL coach) Mark Carlson, who was at Cedar Rapids at the time, I spent two years there kind of getting my feet wet. That was my introduction into coaching.
VFTG: After becoming an NCAA assistant for six seasons, you finally got your first head coaching job in the USHL with Green Bay. Your one season there you inherited a really good team with a couple of guys we’re familiar with in Austin Czarnik and Ryan McKay. How was that experience?
RUD: Awesome. It was a great experience, I loved it in Green Bay, we had a good team, and a couple RedHawks on there – they were good guys. The ownership there is fantastic, the city really supports the team well, it was really just a great situation. Sometimes it’s hard when you’re an assistant coach, you always think you have all the answers. Then you step on the other side, and you’re like, oh, geez, I’ve got to make a lot more decisions that you did when you were an assistant. So it was great experience for me to learn that part of the business.
VFTG: Then a coaching position opened up at your alma mater, Colorado College, and you became an NCAA assistant again.
RUD: It was a chance to maybe go back there forever. It didn’t really work out that way in the long run, but it was a great experience. Coach (Scott) Owens is a great guy, and Colorado College is a great place to play and a a great college for kids to attend. It was a good three years there and I enjoyed my time there.
VFTG: From there you became the women’s head coach at St. Cloud. How did you end up jumping to that side of the college game?
RUD: When Coach Owens got let go, I kind of was searching for something different, and I had some options to go back to the USHL as a head coach or some college assistant jobs that were real attractive. At that point in my life, my kids were going to be in ninth grade, seventh grade and fifth grade I believe. Going back to St. Cloud and jumping into women’s hockey was a really good fit for our family at the time. My oldest son was just starting high school, so he got to play high school hockey in Minnesota, which turned out to be a great experience for him, and my daughter, for her it worked out great because when we were living in Colorado…she was playing hockey with the boys and there really weren’t a lot of opportunities for girls. At some point she would’ve had to start playing out of state or something if she wanted to continue, so at that point, for me taking over women’s hockey was great. My boys grew up in the locker room, they were always in and (my daughter) had to stay on the outside, now she got to come into the locker room and hang out and do all that. And it turned out well for her – she’s going to be a senior in high school this year and then she’s committed to go play college hockey at Cornell. Women’s hockey, it’s just as serious, it’s just as intense, it’s just the recruiting’s a little different. There aren’t as many kids out there. On the men’s side, if there’s an open hour in the day, you’re gone, you’re recruiting. You’re going somewhere. Where the women’s game, there aren’t that many places to go, so I really got to be home a lot the last five years and kind of get my kids through high school, and it really was a great experience for me.
VFTG: Are there and philosophical coaching differences in the women’s game vs. the men’s game?
RUD: A little bit. They want to be coached just as much, and they work as hard as any guys I’ve ever been around. The guys all come in junior hockey, and they’ve all been coached, so you can start with pretty much whatever you want in terms of skipping-pass, fundamental this and that. The guys have heard a lot of different things by the time you get them here, where the women, most of them haven’t. Some of them have just been coached by dads and who knows, so you really have to start from scratch in terms of fundamentals and communication. I really had to learn how to communicate better because I couldn’t just come in and say, hey, we’re going to run an overload on this side, because the guys just jump in and know the girls just look at me. They have no idea. Which was great experience for me because I had to really go back and have a better game plan heading into practice or a game or whatever if I was going to switch things. So that part was great, and the actual game itself is kind of fun because it really flows back and forth. Without as many whistles, and it’s a lot more puck possession, it’s not get it, chuck it forward and chase the puck down the ice. You can bring the puck back, have a lot more time and space…I really enjoyed it.
VFTG: So now you’re transitioning back to the men’s game, and I would think it would be difficult to re-learn the field of recruits in such a short time, having been out of the loop for five years. Has that been the biggest challenge of the switch back to men’s hockey?
RUD: You know what? It’s funny, during the summer…I’ve been out on the road and seeing as many people as I can, and it’s still the same, it’s just different names. In some ways, because recruiting has gotten so young now, by the time a kid gets to be 17, 18, every college in the country has seen most of these kids 10, 20 times over five years. What’s been kind of nice for me is coming back with fresh eyes, because I haven’t seen the pool in five years. So coming in, and instead of writing a kid off when they’re 15 and then they’re on the ‘no’ list for that university for however many years, I come in with fresh eyes and see things a little different. It’s been kind of nice, getting back into that part. So I think it’s been a little bit of advantage in terms of that. Everything’s the same, nothing’s changed in five years. Hockey’s still hockey, players are still players. Recruiting has kind of sped up a little bit but now with the new legislation that went through hopefully that will slow it down, just a little bit so we can at least kids to where they’re sophomores and juniors before they’re committing.
VTFG: It seems like one of your best advantages is that you should know this league as well as anyone, being raised in Minnesota, attending and coaching at Colorado College and also being behind the bench for both the men and women at St. Cloud State. If anyone would know the type of players it takes to win in the NCHC, it would be you. Do you think that’s a big advantage for you as an associate head coach at Miami?
RUD: It’s nice that I was around the NCHC when it started. I was around the first couple years, I was around before it started, so I’ve been used to recruiting against the same schools in terms of Denver, and North Dakota and Duluth. So I have a lot of familiarity with the league, and jumping right in, I kind of know what we’re getting into right away. So I’m not coming in blind, that’s for sure.
VFTG: Coach Schutte was a forward, you were a defenseman, so is it kind of a given that you’ll coach the D-men, and what is your role going to be on game night?
RUD: I’m going to work with the D, and I’m excited for that, and Barry will kind of be the point man for the forwards. In coaching, we’re all coaching all of them, (if anyone) ever has a question, they can come to me. I’m actually really looking forward to that too, having been a head coach and at CC I was working with the forwards there – it’s just kind of the way it worked out – but I’m really looking forward to getting back with my guys, the D-corps. The one thing that’s really about stepping back and being assistant coach again is: As a head coach it’s really hard to develop relationships with the players. It’s just a different relationship. You’re the one that always has to be the bad guy when you’re the head coach, and that’s just kind of the nature of it. It’s harder to spend a lot of quality time with each player just because you’re dealing with everything else. Where now, I can step back, hunker down with our defensemen and really get to know them personally and just help them move on. By the time they leave this place they’re going to be as good as they can possibly be and hopefully they’ll move on and do great things.
VFTG: You’ve obviously been talking to potential recruits for several months now, so with Miami have been in decline the past few seasons, can you talk about what kind of a sell this program is when you’re talking to potential RedHawks?
RUD: I’ll tell you what: The place sells itself. People come on this campus and they’re blown away. Part of the reason when this opportunity came up that I was so intrigued is I understand it’s great place and I know kids want to come here. It’s really such a unique combination of a Division I school with the great education package, and the facilities are as good as any in the country. So we’ve had great response. Put it this way: Whenever we make phone calls, no one shuts the phone off and hides from us. They’re interested, and I think it’s one of the real special places in college hockey and I’m just really, really proud to be part of it.
VFTG: Coach Bergeron and Coach Schutte did great things at Bowling Green, turning that program around, and now they’re at Miami and you’re joining them and bringing your experience at multiple levels, so how optimistic are you for the future of this program with the three of you behind the bench?
RUD: Can’t wait. We just want to get started tomorrow, and I’m just excited that it’s finally here. It’s been kind of surreal since this has all happened, I’ve been running around and doing stuff and now we’re back here hunkering down together. The sky’s the limit for this program, no doubt about it. We’ve seen what it has been in the past and we know what it can look like, and we’re just excited to get it back to where it should be.
VFTG: It had to be quite a whirlwind these past few months, with being hired and moving your entire family here. Can you talk about how this off-season has gone for you?
RUD: I was here for two weeks in June, kind of here to sign my papers in May, and then I was just kind of based out of Minnesota for the summer because it didn’t really matter where we were – we were waiting to move into a place, so we got that all figured out. It’s kind of just been recruiting out of Minnesota, enjoying the last couple of weeks out on the lake in Northern Minnesota, trying to catch a bunch of fish, because now it’s go time. We’re just excited to see what we have, because we don’t know what we have for this year yet. We’ll see when we get started.
VFTG: Coaches Bergeron and Schutte have been together in some capacity for a long time, and you’re sort of the outsider. How accepting have they been of you, and knowing both of them a little bit, I’m going to guess very accepting?
RUD: Yes. It’s been awesome. I’ve known them both a little bit in the past, and especially with this transition of going back and forth and figuring everything out, they’ve been just awesome and very understanding. It’s kind of nice that those two have been together, they’ve had success, they’ve built a program. I’ve been around that in the past where I’ve been, so it’s kind of a different voice joining what they have, so hopefully it’ll be some fresh ideas of things that they like and maybe things that they didn’t quite like, maybe I’ll have a little different voice here as we get going and it’ll be a nice mesh. We get along really well together and it’s going to be a fun staff to be around.
VFTG: School is back, and the season is fast approaching, so in this short remaining off-season, what is the plan to get the team ready for opening night?
RUD: We’ll get them in, start the weight training right away, we’ll get a couple of good weeks of that – that’s the biggest thing this time of year – and then we’ll come up with a game plan of how to attack September. We have a good game plan right now, now we’re just in the final stages of tweaking it, figuring out exactly how it’s going to work. Part of it is, especially first year, everyone together, we’ll have a good plan of how to attack the on-ice piece, how we’re going to that in terms of skill sessions, team practices. It’s a long season, so you don’t want to jump in, full bore, the first week of September and get right into your forecheck and power play, you sort of need to work up to things. So we’re going to work up to that first game and get everything in that we need to get in, and we’ll be ready to go when the puck drops.