Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Know Your Enemy: RIT

Part four of "Know Your Enemy" focuses on a school with a lot of striking similarities to RPI in its academic, athletic, and hockey history profiles - RIT.

Rochester Institute of Technology
Nickname: Tigers
Location: Henrietta, NY
Founded: 1829
Conference: Atlantic Hockey
National Championships: 2 (Division II in 1983, Division III in 1985)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2010
Last Frozen Four: 2010
Coach: Wayne Wilson (12th season)
2009-10 Record: 28-12-1 (22-5-1 AHA, 1st place)
Series: RPI leads, 3-1-0
First Game: November 29, 1985 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: December 10, 2005 (Troy, NY)
Last RIT win: November 1, 1986 (Troy, NY)

2010-11 game: October 22, 2010 (Troy, NY)
Key players: F Andrew Favot, sr.; F Tyler Brenner, jr.; F Cameron Burt, jr.; D Chris Haltigin, jr.; D Chris Saracino, so.; D Eliot Raibl, fr.; D Greg Noyes, fr.; G Josh Watson, fr.

Usually, when the Engineers are paired up with a team that played in the Frozen Four the previous season, it's guaranteed to be one of the most difficult games of the non-conference schedule. RIT proved last season that they have the chops to win big games under the bright lights against some very difficult opponents, but this isn't exactly your usual situation when it comes to the aforementioned scenario.

RIT, founded in Rochester but later moved to South Henrietta (there's a reason they didn't change their name, obviously), is the newest member of the Division I ranks, but they boast a rich history of hockey that was magnified significantly with their magical Cinderella run through the NCAA Tournament last season.

The Tigers have one of the oldest programs in Atlantic Hockey, but it wasn't until the 1980s that the team became a perennial power in Division III. In 1982, under second-year head coach Brian Mason, RIT won 20 games for the first time in their history, and the Tigers followed it up the following season with their very first national championship in Division II (as there wasn't yet a Division III championship at that time), knocking off Bemidji State in the title game.

Mason left in 1984 to take over at Dartmouth, and was replaced by Bruce Delventhal, who would coach the Tigers to their second national championship in his first season behind the bench as RIT again bested Bemidji State for the title.

The 1985 title as with RPI, remains RIT's final national championship glory, but the Tigers remained among the best teams in Division III for the remainder of their tenure in the lower division despite a virtual revolving door of coaches. Delventhal would be Union's choice to guide the Dutchmen into Division I, and he left for Schenectady in 1988. His replacement, Buddy Powers, guided the Tigers to the national championship game in his only season in Rochester, dropping a two-game series to Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 1989 before leaving to replace Mike Addesa at RPI.

In 1994, RIT began a string of 12 consecutive winning seasons that included a national championship game appearance in 1996 (losing to Middlebury) and a nearly undefeated season in 2001, in Wayne Wilson's second season at the helm, going 27-0-1 in their first 28 games before losing in shocking fashion to Plattsburgh in the national championship game, 6-2.

In 2005, it was announced that RIT would be moving its accomplished men's team to Division I, where it would compete in Atlantic Hockey. The following season, the team played as an independent in D-I as part of its probationary period, during which they would be ineligible for the NCAA Tournament for two years. The independent season was rough - the Tigers won only 6 games and among their losses was a 4-2 defeat at the hands of Division III Oswego. But as the program recruited D-I talent, their fortunes immediately turned around in Atlantic Hockey. Barred from the Atlantic Hockey Tournament due to their ineligibility for the NCAA Tournament, the Tigers did the only thing they were able to accomplish that season - win the Atlantic Season regular season crown.

They were unable to repeat as regular season champions the following year, but won their second and third AHA season championships in 2009 and 2010, and followed up with their first AHA Tournament championship in 2010, leading to their first invitation to the Division I NCAA Tournament. What happened from there is still the talk of the college hockey world - the Tigers bumped off heavily favored Denver in the first round, and then demolished New Hampshire to claim the East Regional title and a ticket to the Frozen Four. Still playing the underdog role and with no expectations, the Tigers were pounded by Wisconsin in Detroit, but the message was loud and clear - RIT intends to be a solid competitor in Division I, and woe to the team that overlooks them at any time.

Since they came into D-I after the passage of Prop 65-1 in 2004, the Tigers are barred from offering athletic scholarships since they're still a Division III school (and one that's joining RPI's Division III league this season). Thus, in order to stay competitive, they've needed to be creative with their recruiting. One of their raps that they've received from some corners is that they rely far too much on bringing in older, previously passed over Canadian players. While that's basically true - 16 players on their 25-man roster last season were Canadians, and their youngest player celebrated his 20th birthday during the season - there's also nothing wrong with it, as it's a completely legitimate recruiting strategy.

With that comes the obvious - RIT's players have been playing the game longer than some of their opponents, and while you aren't going to find too many blue chip world beaters on their team, they do have several diamonds in the rough and they play very well as a team, especially in front of their rabid fanbase in Rochester.

A number of the top names from the Frozen Four run are gone - goaltender Jared DeMichiel, defensemen Al Mazur and Dan Ringwald graduated, and Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Year Chris Tanev signed an NHL contract during the offseason. But the Tigers' offensive core is basically all intact, including Burt and Favot, their two top returning scorers. Brenner was an absolute menace in the New Hampshire game.

The Tigers' freshman class should fit in very well with their style of play. Watson is DeMichiel's heir apparent, coming in from Powell River of the BCHL, where he posted a respectable 2.27 GAA last season. Defensemen Raibl and Noyes are both offensive minded and should fit right into the mold established by Tanev, Mazur, and Ringwald nicely. And don't worry, naysayers - every single RIT freshman next season will have reached at least their 20th birthday by the time the puck drops in October, and all but 3 of them come in from Canadian junior leagues.

The last time these teams met, RIT was in its independent D-I season and the game had zero defense whatsoever as RPI came out on the heavy end of a 10-7 score. The only man present as part of that game that will be part of this season's game is RIT coach Wayne Wilson, so if you still remember that slugfest, you can throw it out. Both teams are much better on both sides of the puck than they were that year.

The NCAA Tournament is what it is - a single-game knockout tournament that can produce Cinderella stories at the drop of a hat. That sums up RIT's magical run pretty succinctly - their victory over Denver in March was their first victory outside of Atlantic Hockey in seven tries. The Tigers were one of the last four teams standing last season, but it's hard to make a solid argument that they were one of the four best teams in the nation, even then. Given what the Engineers are bringing back themselves, this should be an enjoyable, probably even close game, but it's still a game RPI should be looking to come out on top in, especially at home. RIT is certainly not to be overlooked, however, and all it will take to get in trouble will be an early goal their way. Defense has to be the watchword early against the Tigers, and scoring first will be crucial.

2 comments:

  1. Good article...FYI though, RIT is actually in the far north-west corner of Henrietta...not South.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Never let facts get in the way of a good joke.

    ReplyDelete