In Tuscher We Trust
Rudy has nothing
Bartusch started last season as Alaska Fairbanks' third-string
goaltender, but ended up posting a nine-game unbeaten streak.
(Photo courtesy of University of Alaska Fairbanks)
the story of Rudy Ruetigger, the Notre Dame walk-on who finally
achieved his lifelong dream of playing big-time college football
with the fabled Fighting Irish after four long years of trying.
(pronounced bar-TOOSH) didn’t try to walk on at Notre Dame,
although he may wind up playing against the Fighting Irish one
day, albeit in a different venue. The Alaska Fairbanks goaltender
had actually hung up his skates and put away his pads two years
ago as he prepared to get on with his life and leave competitive
ice hockey behind along with his junior career.
That is, until
the phone rang at his home in Graham, Wash. The call came from
UAF assistant coach Tavis MacMillan, who had seen Bartusch play
junior hockey in Fairbanks and was calling to ask if he had any
interest in joining the Nanook (Inuktituk Eskimo for “polar
bear”) hockey program as its third-string netminder.
believe it,” recalled the 5-10, 188-pound junior netminder.
“I ran around the house excited, and I was on cloud nine
all summer.” He spent most of that summer 2,200 miles away
in Alaska, preparing with a number of his Nanook teammates for
the upcoming season as if he would be UAF’s starting goaltender.
played just five minutes the year before, and I knew I would be
the number-three goalie heading into (last) year. I stayed here
in Fairbanks, worked out, and just kept improving and building
Part of that
confidence-building came in captain’s practices, unsupervised
scrimmages which Bartusch likened to pond hockey, but one where
he got to see – and stop – a lot of 3-on-0s and other
When the season
started, Bartusch was on the bench at UAF’s Carlson Center,
where he expected to be, as the Nanooks returned two solid netminders
in senior Lance Mayes and junior Preston McKay. Those two started
the first weekend of the Governor's Cup series against Alaska
Anchorage, a heated rivalry that is renewed this weekend in Fairbanks.
Mayes and McKay had taken UAF as far as it had ever gone the year
before, to the CCHA Super Six at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, and
to within a whisker of the NCAA Tournament.
So it came
as a shock that UAF stood at just 9-9-4 through its first 22 outings
when it headed to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., and a pair of contests
at Lake Superior State. Bartusch had already seen some game action,
playing the third period in an exhibition against Mount Royal
College before backstopping UAF for just over 31 minutes and stopping
26 of 28 shots in a 5-1 loss at eventual league champion Ferris
State. Bartusch normally didn’t make the team road trips,
but he was on the plane as UAF opened the calendar year with a
1-2-1 mark before struggling to a 2-2 tie the first evening at
Sometimes a team will change its goaltender in
the middle of a game that’s not going well in an attempt
to jump-start the rest of the squad. What UAF did next helped
to jump-start its flagging season.
came to a point where we weren’t getting the saves, our
save percentage was down, and we weren’t getting the big
saves at the right time,” recalled UAF head coach Guy Gadowsky.
Bartusch – or Tuscher, as his teammates call him.
“The door was open for him,” said
Gadowsky. Bartusch responded by closing it on the opposing Lakers
the second night of the series, earning the game’s third
star in a 5-2 victory. He again stopped 26 of 28 shots, this time
in his first-ever career collegiate start, to boost UAF to its
first victory in a fortnight.
“I was stunned,” related Bartusch.
“We had tied the night before, and we usually only start
a different goalie if we lose. I was pumped up and nervous, and
I wanted to give it my best performance.”
He was just warming up.
Bartusch wouldn’t start again until three
more Nanook losses had passed, although he mopped up in a pair
of lopsided league losses. Following an 8-2 loss at Northern Michigan
on Jan. 31, Bartusch was back in the Nanook net the following
evening in Marquette, and by the time the final horn had sounded
he had stopped 26 shots and earned first star accolades in a 2-2
tie against the host Wildcats.
was great,” he admitted. “I really built up my confidence
that night, since we’ve never beaten them, and could have
He built that
confidence even more back in Fairbanks the next weekend, making
his first-ever starts at the Carlson Center and stopping 59 shots
in all in helping UAF to a 3-3 tie and a 4-3 overtime win against
Nebraska-Omaha. And still his best was yet to come.
Heading back east to face nationally-ranked Ohio
State University, the goalie wearing No. 1 dispelled any lingering
doubts that he was the new No. 1 Nanook netminder by sweeping
the powerful Buckeyes, 4-1 and 5-4. The first game marked the
first time all season that OSU had suffered a league loss on its
home ice at the ultra-modern Schottenstein Center.
“That 4-1 game was probably my best performance
of the year,” beamed Bartusch, who stopped a career-high
40 shots that contest before notching 24 stops the next night
as UAF got the game-winning goal with just 20 seconds remaining
in regulation. Bartusch also picked up his first career assist
in the second game.
“I felt that weekend that I could roam a
little out of my net, and could communicate with my defense, and
I think they started having confidence in me.”
Not bad for
a goalie who saw the bulk of his pre-collegiate work come at the
junior B level with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, now a member of the
Tier II Jr. A North American Hockey League.
still playing Junior B when we were making the transition to Jr.
A.,” Bartusch recalled. “I was splitting time with
Wylie Rogers (who went on to the U.S. National Team Development
Program and has committed to Alaska Fairbanks for next season).”
Bartusch could see the writing on the wall.
“He (Rogers) was 16 years old, and I was
to end up on the junior hockey scrapheap, he decided it was time
to get on with his life and not pursue a hockey career that probably
wasn’t going to happen. “I just wanted to go home
and get started with school,” he said.
A graduate of Fairbanks’ West Valley High
School, he returned home to Washington, attending night classes
at Pierce Community College while working in construction during
the day. He hoped to eventually enroll at Washington State University,
though he didn’t plan to play hockey for Wazoo’s club
He got a better offer, courtesy of MacMillan,
who led the NCAA in scoring during the 1993-94 season along with
UAF linemate Dean Fedorchuk, a Hobey Baker Award finalist that
year who is currently playing professionally in Denmark.
did think of quitting,“ admitted Bartusch, who kept busy
in-line skating and shooting pucks at home, since the closest
rink to Graham is some 40 miles away near Seattle. There were
no guarantees of playing time once he returned to Fairbanks to
play at UAF, as he made just a token appearance at Michigan State
his freshman campaign. After last year's Ohio State sweep, he
was UAF’s main masked man right up through the Governor’s
Cup series to close out the regular season in March.
“That was a huge game,” remembered
Bartusch, as UAA came to Fairbanks with just one win all year,
that coming in the season opener at UAF. “They were looking
to salvage their season, and I didn’t want to let them get
their second win.”
Not to worry, as all three UAF netminders saw
game action in sweeping the rival Seawolves by 6-4 and 5-0 scores.
Bartusch got the win in the opener, a game where he admitted he
didn’t feel he played great, but still managed to stop a
2-on-0 with the game tied to help UAF to the victory.
Cinderella run ended in UAF’s first-round CCHA playoff loss
at Michigan State, as the high-flying host Spartans scored three
times on six shots in the opener to drive Bartusch from the Nanook
net en route to winning the two-game series. UAF still finished
with a plus-.500 overall mark for the second straight season (15-14-7),
although Bartusch knows he can take nothing for granted, even
after finishing 6-1-3 himself with a 2.73 goals-against average
and a .912 save percentage.
happy to be doing it in his adopted home of Fairbanks, cold weather
and heavy snow and long plane trips and all.
it here,” he admitted. “I love the atmosphere here
– it’s a hockey town, and the people here knew me
and have always supported me.”
They’ll do it again this season if Bartusch
merely duplicates his sophomore success. Unlike Rudy, Tuscher’s