Thursday, May 30, 2024

In the Cards: Ring dons red, white, blue

By Collin Bolebruch

American ice hockey players heard bedtime stories as children about the “Miracle on Ice” game at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. They watched the 2004 movie “Miracle” about the underdog United States team taking down the heavily favored Soviet Union in the waning seconds of the gold medal match.

The tale has been repeated to the status of legend and cemented itself amidst great American feats, next to declaring independence and landing on the moon. Plattsburgh defenceman Jack Ring came as close as possible to reliving that moment last month at the Lake Placid 2023 International University Sports Federation (FISU) Winter World University Games.

Ring calls the Greater Boston area home. The region boasts a rich hockey history between the six Stanley Cups the Bruins have won and the rivalry between Boston University and Boston College. Surrounded by greatness, Ring was primed to succeed.

By the time he turned 7 years old, he was already on the ice and handling a stick. Ring took after his father, Ed Ring, a former college hockey player himself. Younger brother Nick Ring was soon to follow. Ed Ring had high praise for their abilities at a young age.

“When they were 8 [years old], they were better than me,” Ed Ring said. “They already had more skill and talent than I did, ever.”

Jack Ring towers over the average person. At 6’3” and 185 pounds, he uses his size to impose himself on his opponents. Good defencemen are usually tall. Teammates and coaches have described him as being an offensive defenceman— a label that requires high skating ability, offensive vision and the ability to control the puck. United States Assistant Coach Jack Ceglarski, from Middlebury College, described Ring as a “fourth forward.”

“I’ve got two boys, one I say is athletic and the other is an athlete,” Ed Ring said. “Jack is extremely athletic.”

He looks like an average hockey player— his swept-back dirty blonde hair falls behind his ears and he usually sports a hockey mustache. His demeanor matches his looks. His father thinks he has a “surfer dude” attitude.

The brothers both started their career with Boston Advantage and were able to share the ice in a few tournaments. 

In 2018, Jack Ring left the organization for Tier II junior play. He then spent time between two different leagues in Massachusetts before being drafted by New Jersey Jr. Titans of the North American Hockey League in May 2020.

Ring’s recruitment to Plattsburgh was sparked by a conversation between Ed Ring and Head Coach Steve Moffat, and the Rings agreed to a tour of the campus.

“We both love the campus. We love the area, being from New England,” Ed Ring said. 

Within a month of that meeting, Moffat was in Minnesota watching Jack Ring, then a forward, compete in a tournament. Moffat called Plattsburgh’s Assistant Coach Reid Lesswing after the trip, stating his desire to bring Ring on as a defenceman. 

Ed Ring recalls Moffat’s enthusiasm to get Jack Ring enrolled at the school following the showcase. The up-and-comer was just as excited. Jack Ring made his debut for the Cardinals in the first game of the 2021-22 season.

It did not take long for Jack Ring to get his feet wet in the North Country. He recorded his first points in the second game of his rookie season, tallying two assists against the Castleton Spartans. Ring’s first goal came against the King’s College Monarchs in the team’s first game back from winter break. After recording 15 points and 11 blocks on the season, he was awarded with the Mike Daoust Rookie of the Year Award, given to the top first-year Cardinal.

“Jack was definitely a treat,” Plattsburgh defenceman Matt Araujo said. “He played really well his freshman year, had a sick year stats-wise, he sparked for us.”

Ed Ring said there’s a tremendous amount of respect the players have for each other in the locker room, and it was earned through barriers individuals or the team had to break together. Jack Ring entered the environment and immediately became a part of the locker room.

The 2021-22 Cardinals’ season ended abruptly with a 6-7 overtime loss to the Brockport Golden Eagles in the first round of the State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) Tournament. It was just the 10th loss to Brockport in team history and the first playoff appearance without a win since 2018.

Coming into the 2022-23 season, the team had a chip on its shoulder. Araujo lauded the defense for its play to start the season. He felt like it was clicking and all seven defencemen were working well together.

Jacob Modry, teammate and fellow defenceman, agreed with the notion. He said Plattsburgh’s system utilizes its defencemen in the offensive zone and that the transition game has been clicking. Playmaking in the unit was creating opportunities for scoring chances.

In late November, the team was named champion of the midseason FirstLight Shootout tournament, after beating the No. 9 Norwich Cadets in the final game. Not soon after, Moffat was contacted by the United States’ staff for Lake Placid 2023. In the first year that the FISU allowed Division III hockey players to compete, Plattsburgh had three defencemen in contention to make the final roster.

At a practice before the team’s winter break, Moffat pulled senior Modry, junior Corey Doney and Ring aside individually to inform them of the news. A few practices later, Moffat told Ring that he was chosen for the team. USA’s head coach, Mark Taylor, reached out to Ring with congratulations. His teammates were just as supportive. Modry remembered being “super pumped.”

Doney stepped away from the team during the break for personal reasons. Ring made his final appearance for Plattsburgh before his leave from the team Jan. 7 for the Comfort Inn Complex Winter Classic Championship against the No. 8 SUNY Oswego Lakers. The Cardinals were down two of their top defenders as the second half of the season began.

“It definitely hurts. We were all kind of biting our tongues,” Araujo said. “We were going to have to work a little harder.”

With two important conference games in the upcoming weeks, Plattsburgh found itself in an unfamiliar position. Most teams try to perfect its game in the back half of the season, fine-tuning its lineups before the playoffs. The Cardinals needed to dig deeper into its roster. Modry saw it as “next man up.”

“You can just fit any of us seven guys in that role and someone’s going to step up,” Modry said. “It’s just what we do and we practice every day, we get used to playing with each other and then make it work.”

The first game on the United States’ slate, against Great Britain, was scheduled for Jan. 11, four days after Ring’s last game in Plattsburgh. The short turnaround gave Ring and the United States just three days of practice before fielding a team. Players from across the country needed to develop chemistry and trust with one another, yet most had never heard of one another before meeting days before the game.

When Taylor built the roster, he said the team wasn’t looking for the best of the best. He aimed to build a group that was disciplined and were fit for the tournament situation. The chemistry created through team building created a group that looked like it had more than three practices.

“It was crazy to watch how on the first day no one was really talking,” Ring said. “Until the last day, two weeks in, everyone knew everybody, you had jokes with all the guys and it was a really cool experience.”

Taylor couldn’t say no to the opportunity of coaching this group. He wanted to provide these players with opportunities that he wasn’t given himself. The experience the players get from a tournament like this is life-long and will be something they can bring back to their own teams.

Ring’s first game was played at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York.  The game fell on an off day for the Cardinals— so the team made the trip to see Ring play in red, white and blue. Modry said the team was proud of him.

Moffat and the team had dinner in Potsdam and made the trip a team night. He said it was important for the team to be there for Ring, like Ring would have been for Modry or Doney. 

The locality of the tournament allowed plenty of Cardinal fans to attend. Ed Ring and Jack Ring’s mother, Karen Ring, got the opportunity to watch their son play in-person. The Ring parents were able to make it to various games throughout the tournament.

The United States defeated Great Britain by a score of 18-0 in a preliminary round game. Jack Ring’s first appearance of the tournament was a success, logging almost 30 minutes of play time, an assist and a plus-minus of three. He called the margin of victory a “crazy one” and that he’d “never heard of that before.”

“We knew they weren’t going to be the strongest team, but we didn’t know it was going to be that bad,” Ring said. “A few of their guys, they didn’t even play hockey last year.”

The teams all stayed in the same complex and ate in the same cafeteria. Ring said occasionally during his career he’d meet a single player on a team from a different country, and the experience of meeting a whole team of foreign players was a rare opportunity.

“We actually played Jenga with team Japan. We got really close with them,” Ring said. “It was just cool to meet all those people, and how they play hockey too. It’s different over there.”

Ring and the United States finished the preliminary round undefeated, beating the Republic of Korea 8-0, Slovakia 5-2, Kazakhstan 4-1 and Hungary 9-1. To proceed in the tournament, the United States had to beat Kazakhstan by three.

“This was going to be the biggest challenge of the tournament and we went out playing our best game, ended up beating them by three and solidifying our spot in the finals,” Ring said. “It was a real special game.”

The initial series of games were played through Jan. 19. Ring missed two Cardinal victories in that time.

“It would have been nice to have some of his offensive touch for those games,” Modry said. “We just played simple, played effective and executed our game plan. It was nice to see everything come together for us, but obviously we were missing a big piece of our lineup.”

Moffat credited Kevin Weaver-Vitale and first-year players Spencer Bellina and Brennan Butler for filling in for Ring. He said they stepped up and the defense didn’t miss a beat. Bellina and Butler’s defensive-oriented game creates good balance in the unit.

The Cardinals beat the rival Oswego Lakers 6-1 Jan. 20, a game the team lost just two weeks prior. The next day, the Cortland Red Dragons came to town for a rare back-to-back conference matchup, losing to Plattsburgh 1-2. The Cardinals finished with a 4-0 record without Ring.

The United States’ first playoff game was scheduled for Jan. 21, the same day the Cards and the Dragons faced off. The U.S. played Japan for a chance in the gold medal game. Ring was taken aback, unaware that he’d be playing against his friends from earlier in the tournament.

He was admittedly off his game, fighting the puck and receiving less playing time. The U.S. won the match 4-3 and proceeded for the gold medal to be played the next day against Canada in Herb Brooks Arena at the Olympic Center, the same rink the “Miracle on Ice” game was played on.

Ring’s parents made sure they were in attendance for the final game, along with thousands of other hockey fans. The United States lost the game 2-7, but Taylor said the team did a “great job” of achieving its goal.

“The atmosphere, I know it affected us, and there’s 7,000 people chanting ‘USA!’ When those kids experienced that, that’s what we wanted to get out of it. We wanted to make a statement as a group that we can do more than what the USA has done at those games,” Taylor said.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Ring to wear the USA colors in front of a passionate, patriotic crowd. Ed Ring remembers it as “emotional” and he called it his and Karen Ring’s “little world.”

Ring rejoined the Plattsburgh lineup Jan. 27, five days after winning the silver medal. In his first game back, Ring was “eased” into the game against Brockport, Ring logged two assists and a plus-minus of 2 in a 4-1 win versus the conference opponent.

“I think he just stepped right back in and he’s taking things really well and he came back with more confidence, which I like to see, and I get the luxury of playing with him,” Modry said. “He was a really big piece of our offense and a really vital piece of us scoring goals.”

Moffat said Ring learned how much it takes to win a hockey game from the tournament, as well as the importance of playing the “right way” and not taking a shift off. Araujo said Ring is back to his old ways, providing offense and power play ability for the Cardinals.

Ring came back to Plattsburgh just in time for a chance at a deep playoff run. In the weeks since his return, the Cardinals have secured a home playoff game in the SUNYAC Tournament. The Cards, powered by the chances Ring provides on offense and his power play chemistry with Araujo, hope to make their first NCAA tournament in six years.

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