Healthy Rucinski ready lead Div. II hockey’s attack

By James Cantagallo

Justin Rucisnki has hockey in his blood, and as a junior he is a vital player for the Div. II hockey team.

The player’s father, Mike Rucinski, was inducted into the Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame in February and played three games for the Chicago Blackhawks in the ’80s. He has been instrumental in his son’s


“I just try to be as much like him as possible,” Justin Rucinski said. “He was never a physical player; he tried to play the game intelligently. He used his brain a lot more, instead of a physical aspect. He had great hands and vision on the ice. I think just growing up and having him coach me rubbed off on me.”

His father’s tutoring has helped the junior center become the player he is today. Those in the hockey program rave about Rucinski’s play.

“Justin is the total package when it comes to a good hockey player,” said head coach Chuck Rinaldo. “He has amazing knowledge of the game and obviously has one of the best skill sets in the nation at our level. He is the guy that we need in our lineup to succeed. He is a guy that is well respected by everyone across the country.”

Team captain Nick Remley also believes Rucinski is one of the best players in Div. II.

“I would rank him as one of the best players in the league,” Remley said. “He does everything right, has amazing hands, and has unbelievable talent.”

In October, Rucinski was forced to sit out for two weeks after getting injured. NIU went 1-3 without him.

“Any time Justin is not in our lineup we see it and feel it,” Rinaldo said. “It can’t necessarily slow us down, but it definitely changes our lineup.”

Rucinski leads the team in goals and points, even after missing four games. He also received the Turfer Sportsmanship Award for October by the American Collegiate Hockey Association. While Rucinski continues to gain recognition for his individual play, that is not what he focuses on.

“I just try to do my best to win every game,” Rucinski said. “I just try to do everything I can, so I can put my team in [a] position to win….”

Rucinski’s strong first half of the season has other teams taking notice and trying to stop him, but he continues to produce.

“He is one of our most valuable players on the team,” Remley said. “All the other teams know that. They are always sending a guy on him, shadowing him, and even with that he still gets the job done and scores goals and sets people up.”

Rinaldo believes Rucinski’s attacking prowess is the biggest asset he brings to NIU.

“Justin’s offensive ability is very impressive,” Rinaldo said. “His ability to take control of the game with his skill is something the team needs, and it can change momentum so quickly.”