WATERVILLE — Not often does a senior captain fall into the category of ‘unsung hero,’ but that’s almost where Colby College center Michael Rudolf finds himself this week.

In the Mules’ win at the University of New England in the first round of the NCAA Division III national tournament last Saturday, Rudolf’s complete game in all three zones didn’t go unnoticed. For the Switrzerland native, the effort could be measured far beyond his second-period power play goal. He’s joined others in taking a page out of the 2004 Boston Red Sox playbook and asking — as one of only eight teams left vying for the national championship — “Why not us?”

Colby will play Geneseo at 7 p.m. Saturday in a national quarterfinal.

“The motivation isn’t a problem now,” Rudolf said. “We’re at a place where the program hasn’t been in a while, so we’re kind of in new territory. We want to keep going as much as we can.”

Rudolf has nine goals this season, but his two-way game carries added significance. As a 6-foot, 190-pound pivot, he’s able to create some space for linemates Cam MacDonald (15 goals) and Justin Grillo (21 points).

With 64 points among them this season, the trio has proved to be Colby’s most productive line offensively.

“You could feel his intensity and his willingness to just do whatever it takes,” Colby head coach Blaise MacDonald said of Rudolf. “He was going to impose his will on UNE and on the game.”

With under five minutes remaining and the Mules holding a two-goal lead over the Nor’easters, Rudolf tracked his man back through the neutral zone, pinched him off along the wall at the Colby bench and wrestled the puck away to thwart a UNE rush.

It was indicative of the influence Rudolf had Saturday night.

“That definitely did sum it up. When one of your leaders plays like that, it’s easy to follow,” MacDonald said. “He was just, ‘Get out of my way. I’m going to make this play.’ When he plays that way, it’s a huge inspiration to our team.

“It was one of the best 60 minutes I’ve seen him play in terms of his determination and consistency over the course of the entire game.”

Rudolf felt he drew his effort from Colby’s hockey history — some of it spanning across decades and some of it a little more recent.

“One of our goals was to win the NESCAC championship, so you can look at this as free hockey here. We’ve got nothing to lose,” Rudolf said. “It could have been, too, that (UNE) beat us twice this year. We had a little something to prove.”

• • •

If the team’s group of defensemen was its weakness early in the season, that corps has reversed the script in the postseason.

Senior goaltender Sean Lawrence has been outstanding over the team’s current eight-game unbeaten run (6-0-2), allowing just 10 total goals during the span while posting 30 or more saves in every one of the games. But the improved play of the blue-liners in front of him has played a big role in the turnaround.

Seniors Michael Decker and Andrew Reis have formed a solid second pairing for the Mules behind Dan Dupont and Mark Leprine.

Besieged by injuries and illness over his career, Reis played in just 15 games prior to this season for Colby. He’s certainly making sure to enjoy every moment of this run.

“It’s been pretty spectacular,” said Reis, who not only partners with Decker on the ice but is his roommate off it. “Coming into it, I wondered where I would stack up on the (depth) chart. I got my feet under me early in the season — I got used to being on the bench instead of in the stands. I got my mojo and got into my groove and got comfortable. Playing with Decker has been a huge help, too.”

The Mules’ midseason change to their defensive systems benefited Reis. In the NESCAC quarterfinals against Amherst, Reis blocked nine shots — testament to the Ontario native’s ability to use his 6-3, 218-pound frame to shut down opposing forwards.

“For a defenseman like me who’s not the most offensively talented, it gets me more aggressive and more engaged in the game,” Reis said. “It definitely worked for players like myself.”

No one is happier for Reis than his coach.

“With that group (of defensemen) there’s been some evolution, in particular, with some important players. I look at a guy like Andrew Reis,” MacDonald said. “Nobody has more passion for hockey and his teammates than he does. When he’s fresh, he can be a dominant player for us. Physically, he’s imposing. He’s great in the defensive zone, and he’s gotten very good through the middle of the rink.

“He brings so much to our d-corps and keeps the game really simple.”

• • •

Winning the NESCAC title was a significant accomplishment for Colby, as was making it to the NCAA tournament. But winning their first-round game cemented the belief that the Mules belonged on the national stage.

Colby and Geneseo played last season (a 4-3 Geneseo win) and only shared one common opponent this winter. UNE beat Geneseo 9-5 in early January.

MacDonald thinks the Knights — who lost in the 2016 national championship game — are a blend of two teams the Mules did see plenty of this season.

“I think they’re a combination between UNE and Trinity,” MacDonald said. “They’re probably more like Trinity, a team in our league that’s been a top-five team in the country all year. A lot of the same elements.

“When you play at this time of year, though, there’s only eight teams practicing today. Everyone’s pretty darn good.”

Geneseo, led by junior goaltender Devin McDonald with his 1.79 goals against average, won the SUNYAC conference championship and enters the weekend having won five in a row and eight of its last nine.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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