RIT Seals First NCAA Bid
by Sal Maiorana/Special to CHN
ROCHESTER, N.Y. When seniors Dan Ringwald, Alan Mazur, Jared DeMichiel, Stevan Matic and Brent Alexin enrolled at RIT in the fall of 2006, the hockey program they were recruited to play for wasn’t even eligible to participate in the NCAA tournament.
As a matter of fact, the Tigers – brand new to Division I – couldn’t even play in the Atlantic Hockey Association tournament due to a mandatory probation period.
So, what happened Saturday night, in front of 3,298 noisy, mostly orange-clad RIT fans at Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial, as Alexin said, seemed “a long way off.”
Not anymore, because the journey for those five seniors and the rest of the Tigers came to glorious fruition as RIT routed Sacred Heart, 6-1, in the finals of the AHA tournament.
The victory, on top of a 4-0 semifinal win over Canisius on Friday, secured RIT’s first berth in the NCAA tournament, five years after the program made the leap from Division I.
“I’ve been dreaming about this since I got here my freshman year when we couldn’t play in this, and now we’re in the NCAAs so we’re ready to go,” said Mazur, RIT’s all-time leading defenseman goal scorer.
RIT won the AHA regular-season crown for the third time in four years to earn the No. 1 seed in the tournament, and based on what happened this weekend there was little doubt the Tigers were the best team in the conference, outscoring Canisius and Sacred Heart by a combined 10-1.
“It was our year to lose it,” said Alexin. “We knew we were the best team, we were the best in the regular season, so we felt good coming in.”
Of course, the Tigers have felt that way before, but in their first two years playing in the AHA tournament at the BCA, they lost in the semifinals.
“The last couple years really taught us lessons, but I think the reason we won the championship is the lessons we learned from the past and we applied them to now and we’ve set another standard for Division I hockey for RIT,” said coach Wayne Wilson, who has expertly shepherded the program through the sometimes difficult transition from Division III.
“It’s always been our goal from day one. The goal was to get into the NCAA and take it game by game from there.”
It didn’t take long for this blowout to begin taking shape, though just like in the victory over Canisius, there was a scary moment in the opening minute for RIT.
Sacred Heart’s Erik Boisvert was left all alone on the doorstep to DeMichiel’s left and he had a gaping net to shoot at, but DeMichiel made a dazzling glove save to deny him.
Less than a minute later Sacred Heart’s David Berube was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for boarding Tyler Mazzei, and just 28 seconds into the power play tournament MVP Cameron Burt kicked off his big five-point night by banging home his own rebound for a 1-0 RIT lead.
The Pioneers (21-13-4) stayed right with RIT (26-11-1) for most of the rest of the period, but the Tigers scored the key goal with 19 seconds to go while they were shorthanded.
Just after DeMichiel made a nice pad save, Chris Saracino gathered the loose puck, headed back up ice on a 3-on-2 rush and fired a slap shot that Sacred Heart goalie Steven Legatto stopped. The rebound came into the slot and Mike Janda backhanded it wide, but the third time was the charm for RIT as Mark Cornacchia whacked it into the net with Legatto trying to get back into position.
RIT then blew it open with a three-goal flurry in the second period. Burt led a 3-on-2 rush up the left wing and sent a perfect feed to the crease where Sean Murphy tipped the puck past Legatto at 1:08.
Jeff Smith picked up a loose puck at the Sacred Heart line and whipped in a wrister at 12:04, and then Tyler Brenner went top shelf with a shot from the bottom of the left circle on a power play after a nice pass from Burt.
DeMichiel’s shutout bid ended early in the third on a goal by Eric DeLong, and then Murphy’s second of the night, with Burt earning his fourth assist and fifth point of the game, closed the scoring.
“It feels like forever because the last two years we were saying next year every time we’d lose in the semis, and finally next year was this year and we did it and it feels great,” said Mazur. “We weren’t going to let it slip away this year.”