Monday, June 20, 2016

Know Your Enemy: RIT

The Engineers will have home games against all four competitors in last season's NCAA East Regional, which was held in Albany. Two are cheating, of course, since Quinnipiac and Yale made up half of that field, but the other two are also making a quick jump up 787 from where they entered the national tournament to tangle with RPI, including this week's KYE entry, which was unable to make their second trip to Albany for the NCAAs pay off with a second trip to the Frozen Four.

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: 2016
Last Frozen Four: 2010
Coach: Wayne Wilson (18th season)
2015-16 Record: 18-15-6 (14-9-5 AHA, 5th place)
Series: RPI leads, 5-1-0
First Game: November 29, 1985 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: November 25, 2011 (Henrietta, NY)
Last RIT win: November 1, 1986 (Troy, NY)

2016-17 game: October 21, 2016 (Troy, NY)

Key players: F Caleb Cameron, sr.; G Mike Rotolo, sr.; F Todd Skirving, sr.; F Danny Smith, sr.; D Matt Abt, jr.; D Brady Norrish, jr.; D Chase Norrish, jr.; F Myles Powell, jr.; F Erik Brown, so.; F Abbott Girduckis, so.; F Liam Kerins, so.; F Gabe Valenzuela, so.; D Darren Brady, fr.; F Reed Delainey, fr.; D Chris McKay, fr.

Previous KYE installments:
It has been claimed that RIT benefits from getting to play in Rochester when they reach the Atlantic Hockey semifinals. We wouldn't go that far - but it certainly doesn't hurt. The Tigers are the two-time reigning Atlantic Hockey champions off of third and fifth place finishes in the last two years, but give them credit for being a gutty, difficult out pretty much any year in the Atlantic Hockey tournament. They get the job done based on a little more than home cooking.

The Tigers finished their sixth winning season in as many tries after joining Atlantic Hockey following their last tussle with the Engineers, a 2-0 road victory for RPI in Scott Diebold's first collegiate victory and shutout. Both goals in that game came during a five-minute major power play that RPI picked up early in the second period, the only scoring in an otherwise evenly played contest. That probably didn't really speak well for either team, especially since RPI went on to get absolutely shelled in giving up 27 goals in their next six games.

RIT's streak of winning seasons came to an end the following season, and in 2014 RIT lost 20 games in one year for just the second time since joining the Division I ranks in 2005 - the only other time being their very first season as D-I independents. But the last two seasons have been a marked return to form with their two Atlantic Hockey titles, which included another upset NCAA victory over a top-ranked team in 2015 - a 2-1 win over Minnesota State in the Midwest Regional that put the Tigers one win away from a second Frozen Four in six years.

This past year, there was hope that RIT's somewhat unexpected Atlantic Hockey title would lead to another fantastic trip in the NCAAs, especially returning to the "scene of the crime" where they shocked the college hockey world in 2010, but Quinnipiac snuffed out those hopes with a dominant performance in the third period for a 4-0 victory in a game that was probably closer than the final score indicated.

One name in particular should stand out to RPI fans - Liam is Paul Kerins' cousin. The younger Kerins had a phenomenal freshman season for the Tigers, tying for second on the team in goals with classmate Valenzuela with 13, and just two behind the team leader, Powell. Chase Norrish (8) and Brown (7) were also among the team leaders in that category last year.

Rotolo is the team's starting netminder, and as a senior he should probably see the majority of time in net. He missed 9 weeks of the season during the stretch run with an ankle injury, during which time RIT's other two goaltenders did a fantastic job keeping the Tigers in contention and positioning the team for the run they made in the playoffs when Rotolo returned. His career numbers in the pipes are fair enough to keep RIT in games when they aren't lighting up the cages on the other side, but they're not quite "singlehandedly stealing games" level.

RIT is the last team on which the Engineers have hung double digits - a 10-7 win in Troy in December 2005, with the Tigers a year removed from Division III. That won't be happening this year - RIT is going to be too good defensively and RPI simply hasn't been a team that can even approach that level of offensive explosiveness, even if they do manage to provide early answers to the offensive question marks they have coming into the season. But it's probably fair to say that, at home, the Engineers will be favored in this game. It won't be by as much as they will be expected to win the previous night against Niagara, but it'll still be likely to be a situation where a loss will come as something of a disappointment. RIT's last non-conference victory on the road was against St. Lawrence in January 2013 - and they haven't beaten anyone outside of Atlantic Hockey but SLU (which they've done three times) since a 5-4 OT upset of Michigan in October 2012.

That being the case, RPI sleeps on the Tigers at their own peril. They have demonstrated ability to be one of the best teams in Atlantic Hockey even above and beyond the fact that they are reigning back-to-back champions and they are more than passable on both sides of the puck. When one factors in the raucous fans that they tend to bring with them on the road, we can expect a fun atmosphere for the contest, but one that can turn dangerous for the home team if they allow the home fans to get deflated early. Having that kind of dependable traveling fan base is a wonderful intangible that can help build a team's confidence when they're finding success.

Expect a solid slugfest when the Engineers and Tigers clash at Houston Field House in late October.

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