Welcome to Tiger Country

photo by Jamie Germano D&C Staff photographer

By Aaron M Smith

Brian Gionta, Patrick Kane, Ryan Callahan, Marty Reasoner and Erik Cole.  Most hockey fans would look at this list and see a list of quality NHL players. What most people don’t realize upon first glance is that all of these players  have one thing in common – they are originally from Western, New York.  Long winters, close proximity to Canada, the Buffalo Sabres and the Rochester Americans – Western New York  has long been a perfect recipe to breed NHL-quality players.  On March 28, 2010, a major new ingredient was added to that recipe – the Rochester Institute of Technology men’s hockey team.

Within a 48 hour span, the RIT Tigers sent major shock waves throughout the college hockey world. The 2010 Atlantic Hockey Conference champions knocked off  two college hockey powerhouses – the  University of Denver and the University of New Hampshire to reach the 2010 Frozen Four.

Now it should be noted that the men’s hockey program at RIT has a long history, competing on the Division II and Division III levels. The program has had its share of success during that time, with 8 trips to the Frozen Four and winning 2 national championships – one each at the Division II (1983) and Division III (1985) levels.  However, nothing breeds respect like success on the Division I level and in 2005 – the decision was made to join the Atlantic Hockey Conference.

Over the last 5 years, the Tigers have had a successful introduction to the Division I level, winning the regular season championship 3 times (2007, 2009 and 2010).  Frank Ritter Arena, with a capacity of 2,100 is a consistent sellout.  Air Force goaltender, Andrew Volkening has been on record as saying that Ritter Arena is the hardest place to play for an opposing player.

But for the school without athletic scholarships, their introduction has also brought disappointments.  Until 2010, RIT has struggled in the Atlantic Hockey Conference tournaments and has been shut out from subsequent NCAA hockey tournaments. RIT has also gone 5-19-1 against Division I teams outside of their conference.

So what does last night’s win mean for the Tigers? Well for starters a trip to Detroit for the Frozen Four. For coaches, it brings a major recruiting tool to the forefront; any school success makes it that much easier to recruit. For a school that doesn’t have scholarships, every advantage is needed and utilized.  How about hockey fans? Easy – more hockey.  For Western New York hockey? Similar to the U.S.  men’s hockey team  silver medal run in the 2010 Winter Olympics (Patrick Kane and Ryan Callahan), RIT’s run has brought further respectability within the hockey world for Western New York.  Even the Atlantic Hockey Conference is able to cash in.

For kids, it breeds excitement in the sport. All of the kids who watched RIT’s victory last night, there is one more reason to lace up those skates. One more reason to go to the rink. Today if you asked them if they wanted to be like Brian Gionta, Ryan Callahan or Patrick Kane, I am sure the answer is yes. After last night, I bet if you ask them who they want to play for when they get older,  a lot of their answers changed to the RIT Tigers.

On April 8, 2010 – Detroit, Michigan will be home to a  new  kind of Tiger – the RIT Tigers. For RIT and Western New York that  is priceless.

6 Responses to "Welcome to Tiger Country"

  1. Bob Gotham   March 28, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    Uncle Mike and I went to the Semi final game against Denver, on Friday. That was one exciting hockey game. The Corner Crew (the RIT student section) was “HUGE” and very vocal. Goalie Jared DeMicheil played great but the entire defense contributed and the offense took advantage of their opportunities. Barry Melrose was in the booth. I didn’t realize how short he is. Not one scholarship player on RIT and the entire Denver team is on scholarship. That says an awful lot for Coach Wayne Wilson and his coaching staff.

  2. Casey   March 29, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Doing this WITHOUT scholarships is nothing short of stunning. Give a lot of credit to Coach Wilson and his staff. Those guys are getting it done. Here’s hoping the Tigers DON’T outgrow the Ritter. That place is great. Here’s hoping some of the local products get in the lineup for RIT. Fitting time to mention that Plattsburgh State took down the Tigers in the ’87 DIII finals. Some memories NEVER fade.

  3. Wally   March 29, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    First of all, this is a great story. Do they really not have “scholarships” … or is this like the Ivy League, where they have “Grants in Aid” which are essentially scholarships? Just wondering. Nonetheless, a great feat for RIT … and it might get even better.

  4. Smitty   March 29, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    Casey, Unfortunately there is already talk about building a new arena. As great as Ritter is – there should be an ability for more of Rochester to get in an support the Tigers. My understanding is they have a spot already picked out.

    Bunch – Friday’s game must have been incredible!! I got over to Blue Cross Arena for the Atlantic Hockey Conference Championship against Sacred Heart. The Corner Crew was loud and abusive all night long. It was fantastic!!

    Coach Wilson and the rest of his staff have been absolutely incredible. Here is hoping RIT makes sure he stays at RIT for a long time. But this team plays with a lot of poise and class. That is a true reflection of Coach Wilson.

    Wally, it is my understanding that can’t even the “grants”.. I believe it totally has to be based academics, but I could be wrong. Either way this might be the greatest thing to happen in Rochester on the college level. I have been trying to come up with something to top it.. maybe Casey or Bunch can come up with something.

  5. Casey   March 29, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    I’m pretty sure RIT is working on “grants.” When the women’s team goes D1 next year, the men’s team can go with athletic scholarships.

    On the corner crew – how bad it is when you know (as an opposing team) you are going to be greeted by a continuous flow of “you suck, you suck, you suck?”

  6. Casey   March 29, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    On the collegiate level in Rochester? Has Rochester ever had a D1 sports team? Nazareth won a D3 lacrosse. U of R men’s hoops won a D3 title.

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