Two seasons ago, RIT was outclassed by Air Force 5-0 in the Atlantic Hockey semifinals, in the school’s first Division I postseason experience. Wayne Wilson’s team used that game as motivation all last season as the team went on to win 23 games, the best ever as a D-I program.
But the Tigers season ended the same way: a loss in the AHA semifinals, this time to Mercyhurst 5-4 in overtime.
“Against Air Force (in 2008) we were disappointed with the way we played,” Wilson said. “I think last year we played much better, got behind and fought back. Playing well makes it easier to accept in a loss. Sometimes I’d rather take those than a win where you don’t deserve it. But not in the playoffs (laughs).”
RIT will try to get over the hump this year, but needs to replace two of its of its top five scorers as well as some key leadership.
“We’re a more talented team than last year, but time will tell about character and chemistry,” Wilson said. “Not to slight our captains for this year, but our leadership last year will be hard to replace.”
Sophomore Tyler Brenner (35 points last season) leads an offense that was third best in the nation last year. But RIT’s strength is going to be its defense, which returns five starters and adds a couple of strong recruits. Senior captain Dan Ringwald has been an all-star every year he’s been in the league and is a legitimate MVP candidate.
“We’ve got eight strong defensemen and somebody’s going to be disappointed every game,” Wilson said. “It’s a problem, but it’s a good problem to have.”
Senior Jared DeMichiel split time with the departed Louis Menard last year, but emerged late in the season as the go-to guy before being hampered with a broken wrist.
“Jared kind of took over last year and he’s earned the starting position,” Wilson said. “But we like all three goalies.”
Special teams have long been a RIT hallmark, and after a slow start last season, the Tigers again were among the nation’s best.
“We spend a lot of time on [special teams],” Wilson said. “It’s a big part of the game and can swing momentum with a big penalty kill or a power-play goal. It’s hard to score five-on-five in this league. You need a strong second [power play] unit and we work hard on that.”
So for Wilson’s Tigers, it’s about building on the past but taking that next step.
“Our goal is to make the NCAA tournament,” Wilson said. “We’ve been close and done some good things as a new program. But that’s our ultimate goal and we haven’t achieved it yet. And there’s nine other teams preventing you from doing that.”