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.