Needless to say, it’s going to be tough for Rochester Institute of Technology to top last year. The Tigers won their first Atlantic Hockey playoff title and became the first AHA team to reach the Frozen Four by virtue of winning the NCAA East Regional with upset victories over Denver and New Hampshire.
But this is a new year and coach Wayne Wilson, the winner of the Spencer Penrose Award as Division I coach of the year, has to balance the excitement generated by last year with the reality of a new team with some holes to fill.
“It’s a little different because everyone wants to talk about last year,” Wilson said. “Expectations are up, but that’s to be expected. Ours haven’t changed. We want to win the regular season. We’re not thinking about NCAAs.”
His Tigers have a target on their back, and Wilson says they are used to it.
“We’ve had a target on our backs for a couple of seasons,” he said. “Winning the regular season title a couple of times, we’ve always felt like we were one of the teams to beat. I guess it might be different in non-league games where we’re being billed now as a ‘Frozen Four team’ but that was last year’s team. We need to make our own identity.”
The Tigers are loaded up front, returning four of their top five scoring forwards, including all-stars Andrew Favot (46 points last season) and Cameron Burt (47 points). But RIT loses all-league goalie Jared DeMichiel, AHA defenseman of the year Dan Ringwald, and the league’s rookie of the year, Chris Tanev, who signed with Vancouver.
“I think this is the best group of forwards we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Wilson said. “Defensively, Chris Haltigin will be very good for us, as will [Chris] Saracino. Having Trevor Eckenswiller [injured the second half of last season] back is very good. And we’ll be leaning on [Daniel] Spivak to do his usual quiet job of clearing the puck.”
In net, sophomore Shane Madolora is expected to get most of the starts early, but Wilson said the job is up in the air.
“It will be Shane initially, but I think we’ll be going by committee for the first half of the season,” he said. “Jan [Ropponen] and Josh Watson will get their chance.”