Rick Dudley played with grit, tenacity and determination and it was because of these qualities that he managed to fight his way to the NHL, both literally and figuratively.
Not being drafted after playing his final year with the St. Catharines Blackhawks of the Ontario Hockey League, Dudley set out for the minor leagues. In 1969-70, he joined the Iowa Stars. The following year he split his time between the Flint Generals of the IHL and the Cleveland Barons of the AHL. Unfortunately for Dudley, he was not drawing a whole lot of attention to his game because he managed just two goals in 31 games.
In 1971-72, Dudley clearly decided it was time to re-invent his image. He figured the best way to do that was to rough it up a bit. Dudley racked up 272 minutes in penalties in just 51 games, a stark contrast to the 32 minutes he served the previous year in Cleveland. The move seemed to work. He felt he garnered him a newfound respect and he also noticed he had more room to move around in front of the opposing team's net. That resulted in a 29-point season. But the real effects of Dudley's new nasty persona really took shape in 1972-73 when his production skyrocketed. He had 40 goals and 44 assists for 84 points while still managing to spend a somewhat toned down 159 minutes in the penalty box during his 64 games in the lineup. Dudley's play certainly caught the attention of the NHL's Buffalo Sabres, who were in need of a player like Dudley. He was called up an played six games for them, picking up one assist.
For the 1973-74 season Dudley earned himself a regular spot on the Sabres' roster, starting 67 games. He had 13 goals and 13 assists while restraining himself to just 71 minutes in the box. The following year, he was a member of the Sabres team that advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. He was a major contributor to the team's offensive output that year, scoring 31 goals and 39 assists for 70 points in 78 games. He was also back to his truculent style of play, spending 116 minutes in the penalty box. Dudley, along with virtual every other Sabres player from that team, believes to this day they had the best team but were simply unable to solve Philadelphia's star goaltender, Bernie Parent.
Dudley's stock was never higher following that season, and he decided the best way to cash in from a financial point of view was to jump to the WHA, a league that was spending all kinds of money in an attempt to compete with the NHL. Dudley played the next four years with the rival league's Cincinnati Stingers. In his first two years he topped the 40-goal plateau and reached 30 in the third season.
With the impending demise of the Stingers, and the entire WHA to follow, Dudley rejoined the NHL and the Buffalo Sabres late in the 1978-79 season. He lasted about a year-and-a-half in his second go-around with the club before being sent to the Winnipeg Jets during the 1980-81 season.
For a player never drafted, Dudley carved out an extremely successful professional career for himself. Upon his retirement, he bought the ECHL's Carolina franchise and made himself the team's coach and general manager. He also served as the league's president from 1983 to 1986. Dudley's rather extensive coaching resume includes stints with the IHL's Phoenix Roadrunners, San Diego Gulls, and Flint Spirits as well as the New Haven Nighthawks of the AHL. Dudley coached the Buffalo Sabres for just over two years in the early 1990s, followed by another stop in the IHL, this time with the Detroit Vipers, where he also became general manager. After taking the job as general manager with the Ottawa Senators for the 1998-99 season, Dudley took the same position with the Tampa Bay Lightning before moving on to the Florida Panthers in the summer of 2002-03.