No More Tears

J.D. Dudek


t only took 77 seconds.

As soon as the puck dropped, Boston College men’s hockey forward J.D. Dudek detected that Northeastern goalkeeper Ryan Ruck was off angle, leaving the upper portion of the cage open. Moments later, he put his calculation to the test. Eying Matthew Gaudreau behind the net, Dudek snuck in between the circles. Gaudreau slid the puck to Dudek, who was now wide open, thanks to a Colin White screen. The then-sophomore went top-shelf, and as expected, scored.

Just like that, the Eagles were on the board. But more importantly, Dudek had exposed Ruck’s Achilles’ heel. His teammates took note. Three of the next four goals, including Dudek’s second of the game, were almost identical.

This wasn’t Dudek’s most prolific performance. After all, he had just recorded a hat trick against Connecticut a couple weeks prior to the December matchup against Northeastern. But it was telling of what kind of player he is: a playmaker. After losing last year’s top-five leading scorers, it is exactly what BC will need this season. Dudek is defined by his ability to create chances on the offensive end, not only for himself, but for the rest of his team. At times, it looks effortless.

That hasn’t always been the case. Dudek cried the first time he played a game of organized hockey.


he tears were partly because the skates hurt his feet, but also because, for the first time in his young life, he wasn’t one of the best players on his team. In fact, he was one of the worst.

Most of the other kids had a leg up on him. By hockey standards, Dudek got into the sport extremely late. An 8-year-old rookie, Dudek was already light years behind many of his teammates, who were skating by age 2 and holding a stick by age 3.

After just one game, he already wanted out. But his parents weren’t going to let their son quit on a team that he committed to. So, reluctantly, Dudek stuck it out. That ended up being the best decision he’s ever made.  

In a matter of weeks, Dudek was in love with the game. He couldn’t get enough of the scoring. Since he was playing in a house league, teams would often record upward of seven goals per game. To him, sounding the horn was exhilarating. According to his parents, Joe and Jodi Dudek, it was the goal-scoring that pulled J.D. into the game of hockey. And once he was in, he wasn’t leaving anytime soon.

“Once J.D. fell in love with the game, he just was 24-7 focused on hockey,” Joe said.

The sport quickly became his obsession. He didn’t waste any time on the ice. Even if J.D. was just waiting in line for a drill, he would practice his handling and try his hand at a few new moves. In his eyes, ice time was invaluable. But the hours outside of the rink were just as important. It wasn’t long before J.D. had a pair of full-size nets in his furnished basement. Whenever he wasn’t doing homework, he was downstairs with his stick, a wiffle ball, and his goals, working on his craft. It wasn’t really work though—it was a passion.

By midseason, J.D. was a top-10 player on his team. A couple months after that, he was one of the go-to guys. The transformation was day and night.

“He had extremely good vision, high I.Q. of the game, and just incredible hands,” Jodie said. “He just had a touch. He had something special.”

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ike most children, J.D. tried his hand at more than one sport. First it was baseball. Then it was hockey, and shortly after that he started playing lacrosse. But he was never interested in following his father’s footsteps.

Joe is one of the best running backs in college football history, despite playing for a D-III school. While at Plymouth State, he set 10 school records, none more impressive than his career touchdown mark. Joe’s 76 scores broke Walter Payton’s NCAA record, and put him in the running for the Heisman Trophy in 1985. He placed ninth in the voting, the best ever for a non-Division I player. His playing days culminated in a brief NFL stint with the Denver Broncos.

It was clear that he had passed on some of his genes to his son. J.D. could throw and catch a football before most kids even knew what the sport was. But the fact of the matter was, he was never drawn to the game itself. Joe and Jodi didn’t force football on him, but they did ask J.D. to try Punt, Pass, and Kick—a skills competition for 6 to 15-year-olds offered by the NFL that measured a participant’s throwing and kicking ability.

The name of the game was distance and accuracy. Each contestant had one attempt to punt, pass, and kick a football as far and as straight as they could. Once an accuracy penalty was factored in, all of the distances were added together. Whoever had the highest score won.

Somewhat reluctantly, J.D. signed up.

Without much practice, he separated himself from the rest of the field. After winning states, the program director asked him what he did in his free time. J.D. didn’t hesitate to admit that football wasn’t his passion—hockey was. So when he went to Rhode Island for the regional qualifier, people started referring to him as the “hockey boy.” With another first place finish, J.D. booked his trip to the New England regional at Gillette Stadium. He won that, too. When all was said and done, J.D. was seventh in the country in the competition.

But that was besides the point. At 11 years old, he was no longer just the son of a college football Hall of Famer. J.D. was a hockey boy.

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fter moving from club to club throughout his first few years in the sport, Dudek finally settled in during middle school. He joined the ’96 Junior Valley Warriors, an Eastern Junior Hockey League team coached by ex-Bruins Steven Leach, Bob Carpenter, and Bob Sweeney. In addition to a prestigious coaching staff, Dudek teamed up with a handful of elite players, including Bobo Carpenter, now a star at Boston University.

Dudek attended Pinkerton Academy to begin high school, where he was paired with another offensive juggernaut—former BC forward Zach Sanford. Together, Dudek and Sanford led Pinkerton to the school’s second Division One state championship in 2012.

He didn’t stop there. A couple months later, Dudek tried out for the USA Hockey Development Camp for the fourth year in a row. In order to reach the national stage, he had to move past a series of cuts, starting with the New Hampshire regionals. He had been there before, and had played well enough to advance to the New England regionals year after year. But this time around, he did more than enough—he dominated.

“When we left the parking lot that day, that’s when the first call came in for the scholarship offers,” Jodie said. “And it didn’t stop. That’s when I realized, ‘Wow, he made a statement.’”

He was about to make an ever bigger one.

Following regional play, Dudek packed his bags and headed for New York for his final national development camp. And boy, did he make a name for himself. Playing alongside Dylan Larkin, now a center for the Detroit Red Wings, Dudek racked up the most points in the entire competition. He got more than one call after this one.

On the the seven-hour drive home, more than eight top-tier Division I schools tried to contact Dudek. At just 16 years old, he was thrown into the college process. And soon enough, it was already over.

By August 2012, Dudek had committed to BC—a team fresh off its fifth national title.

With his future set, Dudek turned to the present. Taking Sweeney’s advice, he transferred from Pinkerton to Kimball Union Academy, a preparatory school in Meriden, N.H., for his final two years of high school.

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t Kimball Union, Dudek got just as good of an education on the ice as he did in the classroom. There was no one better to learn from than Tim Whitehead. After spending 17 years as a head coach in the Hockey East with Massachusetts Lowell and Maine, Whitehead took the job at Kimball Union. He knew exactly what to do with Dudek.  

Offensively, Dudek was everything Whitehead could ask for. The long-time college coach lauded his ability to glide across the ice with high-end skill. Not to mention that he has better stickhandling than most. But that’s not what separates him from other prospects. Whitehead says that playing the game with Dudek’s head up is what makes him special.

He’s always looking for his teammates, no matter where he is on the ice. And it shows on paper. With future college players A.J. Greer (BU) and Tyler Bird (Brown) at his disposal, Dudek had all the options he needed in the attacking zone. In Dudek’s two years at Kimball Union, he posted 60 assists—more than double his goal total. Above all else, he has the courage to make a play under pressure, in traffic, or both.

Dudek was always a creator. But he wasn’t a two-way player until he got to Kimball Union. More than anything, Dudek focused on becoming a 200-foot player during his upperclassmen years. By the end of his senior year, he was a legitimate threat on the kill and a force on defense.

Before the Wildcats’ 2014 NEPSIHA Small School Championship Game against Dexter, Dudek approached Whitehead. He said that he was going to shut down Ryan Donato—the leading scorer in all of New England prep school hockey. Dudek affirmed that as long as he held Donato in check, Kimball Union would take home the championship.

He kept his word. All day, Dudek outplayed Donato in every facet of the game. There was one shift in particular that showcased his development as a defensive player. With the game still on the line, Dudek trapped Denato with his body, preventing the eventual second-round pick from getting a look on net.

At this moment, Whitehead knew that Dudek had what it takes to play at not only the collegiate level, but in the NHL.

“When kids can recognize the importance of being a complete player, and actually execute that, not just wishful thinking, then you know there’s a lot of potential to play at the highest level,” Whitehead said. “There are no one-way players in the pros.”

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bout a month after he graduated from Kimball Union, Dudek was selected in the sixth round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft by the New Jersey Devils. Instead of enrolling at BC that fall, he took a gap year to play in the USHL to further his game and maturation.

When he finally got to BC, Dudek found himself on the bench for the first time since he was 8 years old. But this time, he didn’t cry. Instead, he embraced a new role. During his freshman season, Dudek sat behind three lines stacked with future pros. As the Eagles made a run back to the Frozen Four, Dudek tried to contribute in any way he could.

Most of the time that meant being an energizer, a hype man of sorts. Prior to games, Dudek would get guys going. If someone had a bad shift, he was there on the bench to bring them back up. His minutes came sparingly, but that didn’t stop him from making a positive impact.

And when his number was called, Dudek carried himself the same way he had all of his career.

“I want to be that player that guys look to when we need a goal late, or when we need a goal in any game,” Dudek said.

Come March, he was that player. In a decisive Game Three of the Hockey East quarterfinals against Vermont, Dudek scored his first career goal with 10 and a half minutes remaining in the final period of play. Then, Ryan Fitzgerald sent BC back to TD Garden with the game-winner in overtime.

The Eagles were bounced in the national semifinals, but Dudek saw increasing time down the stretch. Entering his sophomore year, that trend only continued. Each week, Dudek looked more and more like the playmaker he was in high school. Right around the Beanpot, head coach Jerry York even slid Dudek to the off-point position on the power play, the same spot he played at Kimball Union.

Slowly, but surely, Dudek is emerging as the centerpiece of the Eagles’ offense.  

“I think [J.D] is ready to step forward this year … this is his time to be a leader for us, put up a lot of points, be a dominant player for us,” York said.

Thirteen years ago, Dudek contemplated quitting hockey because he wasn’t the star on his team. Now, as a bonafide playmaker, his outlook on the sport couldn’t be more different. It’s not about being the best, it’s about making everyone around him better.

Featured Image by Josh Mentzer / Heights Staff

Photos by Lizzy Barrett and Andy Backstrom / Heights Editors



Andy Backstrom

Andy served as the sports editor and managing editor of The Heights, wrote over 450 articles, covered hundreds of Boston College sporting events, and made lifelong friends in McElroy 113. Like what you see? Follow him on Twitter @andybackstrom.

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