PORTLAND — The booing started as Jake Rutt skated slowly to the open door of the penalty box. The whistle for unsportsmanlike conduct with 40 seconds left in the hockey game was still in his ears.

The booing got louder when the penalty was announced. Not that University of Maine fans had a problem with their newest favorite son. The disagreement was with the referee who made the call. Maine fans want their favorite sons to push back if an opponent tries to push them around.

Rutt shook his head after Friday night’s 2-1 victory over visiting Mercyhurst. “No, it was my fault. I put the team in jeopardy. You won’t see me do that again.”

He’s the 6-foot-2, 210-pound, 21-year-old sophomore defenseman who can claim two hometowns in Maine. He grew up in Augusta until his family moved to Scarborough where he went to high school. A determined, physical, stand-up kid whose dream was to wear the blue and white colors of his state’s university at a time when fewer Mainers play prominent roles on university teams. Rutt joined junior wing Mark Anthoine of Lewiston and freshman defenseman Kyle Williams of Bowdoinham on the ice Friday night.

“Oh my goodness, I don’t know,” said Lisa Rutt when asked about how many in the crowd of some 4,650 had a connection to her son. “We saw a lot of people down from Augusta and from Scarborough. I think that’s important. More of the state needs to get excited about Maine hockey again.”

No one in the Rutt family is blind to the 5-11-2 record after Friday night’s victory. But the win was Maine’s third in a row. The Rutts are hopeful. Maybe you should be, too.

The four Rutt children — Caitlin, Jon, Jake and Abby — were active in hockey and baseball. When it was cold enough for ice to form on the outdoor rink in the Augusta neighborhood of Sand Hill, you could find the siblings pushing a puck as soon as they got off the school bus. When the ice melted, they substituted hockey sticks for bats.

Norm Rutt, their dad, made the same transition. He coached the Hall-Dale hockey team, briefly, when its star players were Johnny Clark, now the championship race car driver, and his brother, Bobby. Norm Rutt also coached youth baseball.

Caitlin played on one of Cony High’s first club hockey teams for girls. Jon and Jake got attention playing for Little League All-Star teams that advanced to the New England tournaments in Bristol, Conn., one step short of the Little League World Series.

Jon played four productive hockey seasons at wing for the University of Southern Maine. Jake was a star catcher at Scarborough High. Abby, now at New Hampton Prep, was an acclaimed hockey defenseman and softball catcher at Scarborough.

“I miss (playing) baseball a lot,” said Jake Rutt after Friday night’s game. He grinned, knowing he belongs on the ice. Abby Rutt says her brother has the temperment better suited to be a hockey player that works well with the good hands of a former catcher and first baseman, his strong stride and ability to listen to coaches. Friday night when he came off the ice, Jake Rutt got reinforcing pats on his back and a voice in his ear from associate head coach Bob Corkum, a veteran center of some dozen seasons in the NHL.

Rutt was a role player last year, playing in 13 of Maine’s 40 games. He wasn’t on the ice when Maine played Clarkson at the Civic Center on Thanksgiving weekend last season. In fact, many of Maine’s players are trying to move into bigger roles this year which is one reason the won-loss record stood at 5-12-2 after Saturday night’s loss to Mercyhurst back on the Maine campus.

It’s a team still searching for consistency and an identity. Rutt needs to be part of both and he knows that. He has the growing reputation as a skilled player who won’t back down.

“I don’t think I was always aggressive. I had a growth spurt and realized I wasn’t the same size as everybody else.” Meaning, he understood he could play bigger if he used his head and his muscle. Mom sees it this way: “He’s very, very protective of his (teammates).”

She and Caitlin got emotional when Rutt scored his first collegiate goal earlier in the season at Alfond Arena. Getting to play for Maine was the result of Jake’s work habits and his physical gifts.

“Hockey,” said Lisa Rutt, “will reward you if you work hard and do it right.”

Thursday night, the team went to a neighborhood in Scarborough for the the home cooking of Norm Rutt’s famed chicken parmesan and pasta. Jake Rutt does know how to take care of his teammates.

Steve Solloway — 791-6412

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveSolloway

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