PITTSBURGH PENGUINS DEVELOPMENT CAMP 2013
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: BRYAN RUST
By Dave Fryer, Contributor to InsidePittsburghSports.com
Bryan Rust has nearly seen it all in his three seasons at the University of Notre Dame. “We’ve been to the Frozen Four. We haven’t made the tournament. We’ve been a first-round knockout. We’ve seen the ins and outs, the goods and bads,” Rust said.
The senior-to-be has also ridden a similar rollercoaster ride on a personal level.
In 2010, Rust had a fairytale year. He was a member of the Under-18 team for the United States that won a gold medal at the World Championships, where he posted 8 points in 7 games. He also put up big numbers with the US National Development Team that season, including leading the team with 7 game-winning goals. Rust then reached a personal milestone that summer when he had the honor of being drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the third round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
Rust’s success continued into his collegiate career at Notre Dame that fall. He made an impact in his freshman season with the Fighting Irish by putting up 19 points and a +14 rating. That was the year his team advanced to the Frozen Four of the NCAA Tournament, falling to eventual-champion Minnesota-Duluth in the national semifinals. It seemed as though Rust was on an unstoppable climb upward.
Then the bottom fell out.
Rust had an incredibly disappointing season as a sophomore for the Irish, dropping to just 11 points and a -2 rating. His squad struggled also, hovering around the .500 mark and finishing well shy of a berth into the NCAA Tournament. He was just another face at his first Development Camp with the Penguins that off-season, barely gaining much interest or attention. What was once a vertical ascent now felt like a downward spiral for the Michigan native.
But Rust used that summer to establish a more-positive outlook on himself and his game. “Just by being a guy who’s upbeat and positive about things, instead of looking at things negatively like maybe it was a few years ago at Notre Dame when I had a rough year,” Rust recalled. “I take things one step at a time and don’t look too far into the forward. It’s all about the present and the now, and I know if I just work hard now, it’ll pay off in the future.”
And with those mental adjustments, Rust experienced a lot of physical improvements over the following year. “My skating took a huge step and probably just my overall body in general. I dropped 3-4% body fat. With that, I was able to really get stronger and quicker so I was able to get to my top speed faster. It helped me quite a bit in getting that extra step on defenders.”
That translated into a very productive junior season for Rust in 2012-13. He led the Irish with a +25; tied for the team lead in assists, power-play goals, and game-winning goals; and was second in goals and points. That helped bump his team up to 25 wins and a return to the NCAA brackets.
That brought Rust back to his second summer camp with the Penguins with improved focus and confidence. “I was expecting it to be a pretty tough week, but I’m excited for the rest of the week,” he said after an on-ice session at the camp. “I came in way more comfortable and way more calm. My nerves weren’t nearly as bad, and I knew what to expect. I knew I was in good shape, as opposed to last year, when I felt like I was in mediocre shape and didn’t know how I was going to do.
“In the physical testing, I was able to show that I’ve worked really hard. In the numbers, I’m way improved over last year when I was here,” he said.
Rust now seems to be back on a steep, upward track again, a feeling echoed by Notre Dame Assistant Coach Jason Nightingale when told of Rust’s strong showing at the camp. “I’m not surprised Bryan is doing well. He had a great season and is an important part of our team,” Nightingale said. “He is a great fit for the Notre Dame Hockey program. He’s a good steward of his academic and athletic talents. He’s an everyday player with great practice habits. He understands the game at a high level, and the coaching staff relies on his feedback in terms of tactics and adjustments.”
But Rust knows from his previous experiences that there is never a guarantee that things will always go perfectly by setting himself on cruise control and being fixated too far in the distance. “Now I’m happy about where I am, but I’m not satisfied. I probably won’t be satisfied until we win a National Championship or until I sign (a pro contract) or until something like that,” Rust said. “I’ve learned to work hard, I’ve learned to do the right things, I’ve learned to eat right, and things like that. So I’m hoping to take that forward with me.”
And what does he hope that future holds? “Our whole class is looking to leave a mark at Notre Dame. (We want to) win a championship, maybe the first one in Hockey East. That’s what we’re looking for. And obviously our program hasn’t won a National Championship, and with 11 seniors on our team next year, that’s our goal.”
And the goal beyond his current scope would obviously be to land a spot in Pittsburgh. “They expect me to go hard to the net, be a net-front guy, and be a grittier guy,” Rust described. “One of those energy roles that can play both ends of the ice, play PK, and if the time comes, I can step up on the power play. Hopefully that works out, and hopefully I can keep progressing my game that way so I can be there.”