RIT's DeMichiel Paves Unusual Path
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
His goal, he says, is not to be weird — like other goalies. Whether his efforts are succeeding or only feeding it, depends on your perspective.
Jared DeMichiel has always been the same fun-loving, family-oriented, Hartford Whalers fanatic that he is now. It's just that now, with RIT in the Frozen Four, people outside of Rochester and other Atlantic Hockey venues are finally getting to see it.
These are the kind of moments that make national fans and media feel warm and fuzzy, and make locals who have followed the team all year say, "Where ya been?"
But DeMichiel was there to make sure his team, and himself, got noticed, stealing the show in more ways than one during RIT's underdog run through the NCAA East Regional in Albany last week. Not only did he hold Denver and New Hampshire to a combined two goals, but his post-game press conferences well filled with the class-clownish charm of someone taking advantage of a new spotlight.
"I want to be as normal as possible," DeMichiel said. "Goalies have a reputaiton for being a little bit weird. I don't like that, so I do my best to be one of the boys."
He displayed his normal-ness by cracking one-liners, making fun of reporters shirts, and displaying a particular obsession with the long-gone Hartford Whalers, the team of his youth growing up in Avon, Conn.
"I can remember my parents taking me to games growing up," DeMichiel said. "We only had two season tickets, so we sat on my parents' laps. We finally got big enough and my sister, she basically runs our house, she complained that she wanted seats on the glass.
"We're die hard fans. Jim McKenzie, a former Whaler, is a great family friend. His daughter went to my sister's wedding. He's a great role model to me. Guys chirp at me making fun of me, but I don't care."
They may have left town 13 years ago, when DeMichiel was 10 years old, but he can quickly reel off a who's who in Whalers lore: Andrew Cassels, Geoff Sanderson, Sean Burke, Jason Muzzatti, Peter Sidorkiewicz, Kay Whitmore.
"I could go on for days," he says. "They were Stanley Cup winners to me. I still have the Whalers posters up in my room. I have a Whalers pillow and blanket in my room."
Being a Whalers fan 13 years after they moved, is not exactly an easy chore. It's akin to those who thought RIT had a shot to make the Frozen Four, something no Atlantic Hockey team had ever done previously, and coming in RIT's fourth year in Division I.
DeMichiel talked a lot about respect after RIT won the regional — such as whether Atlantic Hockey would ever get it. But he might as well have been talking about himself.
It's valid to wonder where DeMichiel had been all these years, before emerging at RIT. But it started at Avon Old Farms prep school, where he said that, in his four years, the people there didn't support him or believe in him. His hockey career was nearly derailed.
"My parents and my sister were like, 'You're young,'" he says. "I had a pretty good baseball career at Old Farms, but hockey is my first love. So I decided to pursue junior hockey, but I didn't have the best junior career. But I just tried to stay with it and have fun and work hard and how for the best.
"Then RIT showed some interest in me."
So many of the players there — there's not one teenager in the regular lineup — certainly have similar stories. It's why they're there.
"I definitely had a different road than I think most Division I players had," DeMichiel says. "But my father always told me to work hard and good things will happen, and that's been my mindset.
"But I think one of my issues was I was too worried about what people thought instead of what was best for me. I wasn't playing my game. And it took some people to open my eyes and just tell me to have fun and play my game — 'You don't need to be a blocker, you need to be a goalie. You just need to get in position to stop the puck, and if you do that good things will happen.'"
His post-game press conference quips aside, DeMichiel is indeed unlike many other goaltenders — certainly not "weird" and also a leader. At nearly 25 years old, he can do that in this locker room, and his team definitely feeds off of his enthusiasm.
"I'm more vocal in practices and things like that," DeMichiel says. "Game days I'm a little quiet."
Until the team wins NCAA games.
"I got in trouble in elementary school for stuff like that, but I get my personality from my mother so I have to thank her for that. But I'm just having fun playing a game. You have to remember it's a game. ... [My mom] is pretty crazy. She's not afraid to hang out with the guys, hang out with the girls. But she's great to me, she takes care of me, I'm a bit of a momma's boy."
DeMichiel's mom was back home in Florida — where the family moved while Jared was in high school — and missed the regional, attending to the family's sick dog. Meanwhile, his sister is 7 1/2 months pregnant. But he thinks the whole family will be there in Detroit.
A Frozen Four experience can be overwhelming when it's your first time, no matter how loosey-goosey you've been to this point. But it will have been 12 days since the regional win once the puck drops against Wisconsin at 5 p.m. on Thursday.
"We do have some momentum going our way right now, but at the same time I think it's good to have time off," DeMichiel said. "It gives us time to heal physically, and also to maybe let our heads deflate a little bit. We need to get back at it and maybe focus a little more."
They will do so with a nation's focus now squarely on them — a thought that would've been considered pretty, well, weird just 10 days ago.