Frozen Four: Boston College's JD Dudek finds true game
When your dad is a New England football legend, an ex-NFL player to boot, it's only natural that you gravitate toward that game.
JD Dudek started along that path, winning Punt, Pass and Kick events on state and regional levels, and finishing seventh in the country. Yet, touchdowns and tackles weren't in his future. Once JD Dudek laced on a pair of skates, any football dreams got sidetracked.
This week, Dudek, a freshman forward at Boston College, will be playing in the Frozen Four at Amalie Arena in Tampa, in a semifinal matchup between BC and top-seed Quinnipiac on Thursday.
Dudek's dad, Joe, burst upon the scene as a star running back at Division 3 Plymouth State. The All-America player wowed fans and wound up on the cover of Sports Illustrated on Dec. 2, 1985 after he broke Walter Payton's NCAA record for career touchdowns. He also was ninth in voting for the Heisman Trophy, the highest-ever finish by a non-Division 1 player.
"He never really forced me to get into hockey,'' JD, who didn't start skating until age 8, said about his father. "He said, 'Why don't you give it a try.' I never actually tried playing a sport. I did Punt, Pass and Kick and I did very well, but he been very supportive and he's become a big hockey fan."
Dudek's dad ended his career as the NCAA record-holder for 100-yard rushing games (30) and games with two or more touchdowns (24). He played two games for the Denver Broncos in 1987, and is the only Plymouth State football player to have a jersey (No. 22) retired. Dudek was voted into College Football's Hall of Fame in 1997.
"My philosophy has always been to take the challenge on, work hard, and make the most of your opportunity,'' said the 52-year-old Dudek. "My wife, Jodi, and I are very proud of him. I don't have to tell JD to be a good teammate because he always has been. It's really been fun. I've become more of a hockey fan than a football fan.''
JD's mom concurs.
"I'm so proud of him, first and foremost, because of the young man that he's become. Everything else is extra. I said to Joe, 'I can't believe we've become hockey parents.' But all you can do is be supportive,'' Jodi said from the family home in Auburn, N.H. "We're praying to the hockey gods for good luck this week."
BC coach Jerry York is a master at developing young talent and believes Dudek's best days are ahead. During the hard-fought Hockey East quarterfinal series win over Vermont, it was Dudek's first career goal at 10:30 of the third period in deciding Game 3 that turned the tide for BC.
"Huge goal for us,'' said York of the New Jersey Devils' 2014 sixth-round draft pick. "He's been in and out of our lineup. He's playing sparingly minutes but I'm hoping he learns and gets better every day. He wants to be a player. He wants to be one of our top nine (forwards). Certainly, it's in his future if he wants to develop.''
And Jodi missed her son's big goal.
"I was watching the flow of the game and saw we scored and it was tied," she said. "Joe said 'JD got the goal.' I asked him, 'Are you sure?' "
Dudek plans to gift the puck from his first goal to younger sister, Taylor, 16.
Dudek grew up as a season ticket-holder of UNH hockey, watching current BC assistant Mike Ayers in a starring role as the Wildcats goalie. These days his loyalty is strictly with BC.
"The team, it's really special this year," he said. "The guys have been great, really supportive. I've had to fill a little bit different role but I love playing it, just playing real hard, playing fast, giving some minutes so the top guys can get some rest. It's been great working hard for the guys. I know they're appreciative. It's fun to work hard for this group.''