Burt, RIT Cap Amazing Journey to Detroit
Tigers Reach Frozen Four in Just Fourth Season in D-I
by Matthew Conyers/CHN Staff Writer
ALBANY, N.Y. Before the media could even get out the question Friday, RIT’s Cameron Burt was ready with the answer — talk of Detroit was for another day.
That day came Saturday.
Burt and his teammates continued their magical run with a 6-2 defeat of New Hampshire to advance to the school’s — and Atlantic Hockey's — first Frozen Four in history. The win, RIT’s 12th-straight victory, sent Burt, a Detroit native, back home.
“It’s just a great feeling to get to go home,” Burt said. “I haven’t played there in about six or seven years now. I get to play in front of all my friends and family — its going to be a really great experience. But there’s two more hockey games to win before you can be national champions — but you never know what happens right about this time.”
A lot of players envision the chance to play a Frozen Four in their home town, and for some players, fate finds a way. One that comes to mind is Maine goalie Ben Bishop, who came to Orono and got to play on a team at just the right time, getting to the Frozen Four in hometown St. Louis in 2007. From the day he came to Orono, he was allowed to have that dream. It doesn't always work out, but it did for him.
But someone like Burt, even bothering to dream that dream seemed like a silly waste of time. An inner-city kid from Detroit? Playing D-I hockey? RIT? In the Frozen Four? In that specific year it was in Detroit? Yeah, right. Are you kidding me? You, sitting there right now reading this, might have a better chance of getting hit by an asteroid in the next five minutes than this confluence of circumstance.
But it happened. And the story doesn't end there.
Burt, who grew up in inner-city Detroit on the northwest side, refused to discuss his hometown Friday after scoring the game-winning goal in RIT’s first Division I tournament victory against top-seeded Denver. But with the Tigers holding a steady lead from the second period on, Burt couldn’t help but envision a homecoming. No matter how much he tried, Burt had Motown on the mind.
“It was a really good feeling knowing that I had a chance to go home and play hockey there again,” Burt said.
Burt admits to getting a little teasing about his love for his hometown. Just ask about his notorious tattoo.
“I get kind of teased,” Burt said. “I went home over Christmas break and I got a tattoo that says 'king of my city' with an old english 'D' (like those worn by the Detroit Tigers). All the boys are giving me some heckles for that. All the boys are happy we just made it. We could’ve been going to China to play hockey. It was just a bonus that I was going home to Detroit.”
His teammates, especially goalie Jared DeMichiel who had 24 saves Saturday, were more than happy to send him home.
“We’re definitely ready to go back to Detroit Rock City for Cameron,” DeMichiel said. “I know he is excited to play in front of his family and friends. He’s a great guy and he’s done a great job of stepping up this year."
Just being an African-American from inner-city Detroit was a story unto itself for Burt. It took a lot of family support and going against the grain as a hockey fan growing up, just to get to RIT.
Burt grew up playing a variety of different sports thanks to his dad’s encouragement but got stuck on hockey knowing he had a chance to go far in it. He grew playing with the Detroit Hockey Association before he moved to travel, then played a year of high school and then went on to juniors with the Green Bay Gamblers.
“I was the brunt of a lot of jokes but I knew I had to stay true to my goal — I knew what I wanted to do,” Burt said. “I saw the bigger picture and I wasn’t going to let anyone hold me back with any negative comments.”
Burt said his grandmother and his immediate family that all still live in Detroit will get the first chance to see him play in more than 12 years. Back home there were viewing parties at the Hockey Town Cafe.
Over the past 15 games, Burt has played like a man hungry for some home cooking. Burt was named the Atlantic Hockey Tournament MVP last weekend after tying the school’s Division I team record with five points in the Championship game against Scared Heart.
“I’m a player that really likes the pressure, I feel that is why we play the games,” Burt said. “We want to step up into the limelight and show everyone what we can do. I feel like it is my job to get the team going. They look to me to make plays out there and I try to do what I can out there.”
Burt’s recent hot streak is on par with the Tigers’ win streak, which is a school record. The 22-year old sophomore forward has 28 points over the last 14 games, including three different games with at least three points. Burt has 17 points (7-8) in 10 postseason games and leads the Tigers with with nine power-play goals.
The mature play of Burt hasn’t gone unnoticed by DeMichiel.
“He’s got a lot pressure on his shoulders and he does a great job of dealing with it,” DeMichiel said. “I think he’s starting to step up and be a leader on-and-off the ice. He’s putting up great numbers and there’s not too much more you could ask for of a sophomore forward.”
Saturday, Burt had just one assist. Still, it came on the backbreaker for New Hampshire. The goal by Stevan Matic capped a three-goal run in 1:34 that made it 4-1 for the Tigers with 5:03 left in the second period. New Hampshire never recovered.
“Before the game even started, I kind of felt looking around that we were really focused and ready to go,” Burt said. “Those goals came and I know when get up we hold leads pretty good.”
RIT is 21-0-1 when having the lead at the end of the second period.
But Burt’s skills weren't exactly needed on the score sheet Saturday. Instead, Burt played the type of two-way hockey that kept New Hampshire from any surprising rally. Then with about three minutes left, the reality hit home.
“When we were up 6-2 that is when it really hit me that we had a chance to go back to Detroit,” Burt said.
Detroit holds a special place in his heart and Burt hopes RIT’s journey will help shed some positive light on his currently downtrodden hometown.
“Don’t let the media influence you, its not as bad as they say it is,” Burt said. “There are some trouble areas but we won’t be there at all. I really encourage people to come out. I know it's going to be a great experience and I just want more people to be part of it.”