Only five years after making the transition to Division I, the Tigers have accomplished a remarkable feat to claw their way into this final week of hockey and have shocked a lot of skeptics along the way.
Pulling off two major upsets against national powerhouses en route to their first Frozen Four appearance is just the tip of the iceberg for the Tigers’ journey this season. But simply making the tournament isn’t enough for this tenacious squad — they’re in it to win it.
The Tigers have undoubtedly exceeded expectations this season. They’re the hottest team in the nation, sporting a 12-game winning streak. They had to rewrite the program’s record book after earning their highest national ranking (currently No. 9), earning the most wins ever in a season (26), earning their first NCAA tournament victories and reaching their first Frozen Four.
Though still new to the D-I world, the Tigers have played with the same poise, discipline and composure demonstrated by their more experienced counterparts like Wisconsin or BC. In their East regional final match with Denver, they pulled off the biggest upset in their program’s history in a close 2-1 contest. They went on to pound UNH in the final 6-2 by exploding with three goals in a 94 second span to send the Wildcats packing.
Senior captain Dan Ringwald says his team has been able to get this far by focusing on one task at a time and taking it game by game. By concentrating on their collective team agenda, they’ve been able to tune out the critics who say they shouldn’t be where they are right now.
“One thing I can tell you is that the 30 guys in our dressing room definitely believed it," said Ringwald. “We expected to win and we still expect to win. A lot of the outsiders didn’t give us a chance, but we just take that in stride, accept it for what it is and still go out there and approach it the same way.”
One of the keys to RIT’s success this season is in net with Jared DeMichiel. He’s been crucial all season and especially during their postseason run. He had the game of his life against Denver by tying a career high with 39 saves and setting another RIT hockey record for most career wins after earning his 40th. After only seeing action in 20 games last season, he’s had a breakout year to backbone the Tigers to their best record as a D-I club with a 28-11-1 overall record.
Both the Tigers offense and defense have been fine-tuned throughout the season and are peaking at just the right time. They’ve allowed their opponents only 14 goals in their last 11 games and have outscored the competition 47-14. Cameron Burt has had the hot hand and will be the player to watch. His 47 points lead the team in scoring.
Head coach Wayne Wilson, who’s been named a finalist for NCAA coach of the year, couldn’t be happier and is not the least bit surprised with the progress his team has made in such a short time.
“To win the AHA Tournament and get to the NCAA Tournament is a culmination of all the players that have come before all the way back in the Division III days,” said Wilson. “RIT has a great hockey tradition and this is another step in that tradition.”
RIT continues a remarkable run during the second half of the season with an 18-3-0 record since Jan. 8 — the team is 12-1-0 since Feb. 1. Their 12 straight wins are also a new team record.
“This is an accumulation of a lot of hard work from a lot of different players, said Wilson. "We’ve set a bar of excellence. It’s a little unbelievable, just the calmness of the players and the way they go about their work. It’s great to be an AHA representative and the first in the Frozen Four.”
RIT is now 6-0 in this season’s postseason run and has outscored its opponents 26-8.
The Tigers will face No. 2 Wisconsin on April 8 in the first matchup of the Frozen Four doubleheader at Ford Field in Detroit.
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