Matt Rudin sported Ohio’s honorary WWE belt as he emerged from the team’s postgame locker room festivities after a 4-1 win and sweep over Lindenwood on Saturday at Bird Arena.
“Does it fit?” Rudin asked.
It's been a while since Rudin has been able to receive the honor.
The belt, which is given to Ohio's most-valuable player after each game, encapsulated more than just a solid game from Rudin. The forward, who played in just his second game since suffering a broken left clavicle on Oct. 20, tallied two goals and two assists on Saturday and proved that there was no rust from his four-weekend absence.
“He was phenomenal this weekend,” coach Sean Hogan said. “I was really happy. He made a huge difference for us this weekend.”
Rudin, who was originally scheduled to return from his injury after December, looked like his normal self, even though his return came against No. 3 Lindenwood (13-3-3), the toughest opponent No. 8 Ohio (14-3-1) had faced this season.
Aside from his work on the scoresheet, Rudin brought a physical presence that helped Ohio create scoring opportunities. — each of the junior’s goals were created because of physical play in front of the net.
His assist on the Bobcats’ third goal on Saturday came after tussling with a Lindenwood defenseman and re-directing a shot that went off the goalie and toward Tyler Harkins’ stick, who lifted the puck into the net for the goal.
Hoping to avoid a re-aggravation to his injury, Rudin tried to make hits with his right shoulder. He wasn’t sure if he could immediately play to the same physical level he had possessed before his injury.
Rudin was “a little bit” surprised that he was able to maintain a similar physical style in his first weekend back.
“During practice and stuff, we don’t go full contact,” he said. “I wasn’t sure, going into the game, how full contact would feel on my shoulder, but it was fine.”
Rudin shared a similar weekend performance with Harkins, his linemate. Harkins registered three goals and one assist in the two games against Lindenwood and tallied two goals on Saturday.
Rudin had the primary assist on each of Harkins’ goals on Saturday and re-created the chemistry that was present from their junior hockey days with the Cleveland Barons, where the two also played on the same line.
The duo termed themselves “The Cleveland Connection.”
“It’s awesome,” Harkins said. “He’s a great player. Honestly, the biggest thing is that he creates time and space for each player. He makes the job easier for everyone else, so I love playing with him.”
During Rudin’s absence, Hogan was tasked with finding a working formula among his 10 available forwards.
Hogan counted on Rudin to invigorate the thin roser and was not disappointed.
“What I like most about Rudin, I thought he brought energy every shift,” Hogan said. “I thought he made a big difference in our weekend.
“Without him, it could be a different series.”