En route to last season’s surprise appearance in the NCAA Frozen Four, Rochester Institute of Technology lost each of its first five games of the season.
To reach those dizzying heights again this time around, though, the No. 18 Tigers will be hoping that it can recover from early setbacks yet again.
Friday afternoon’s 3-1 loss to fourth-ranked St. Cloud State to open the Mutual of Omaha Stampede was one such occasion.
The Tigers, having lost standout goaltender Jared DiMichiel last summer to graduation and missing leading scorer Cameron Burt because of a suspension dating back to last season’s national semifinal loss to Wisconsin, were always going to have their hands full against the Huskies on Friday.
That isn’t to say that RIT was unable to hold its own against SCSU, however, and Tiger goaltender Jan Ropponen played a big part in keeping Friday’s season opener scoreless until past the halfway point of the game when senior Husky forward Nick Oslund picked up his own rebound to open the scoring at 13:43 of the second period.
The Tigers committed four penalties in Friday’s middle frame, but they came out for the third period not looking too much the worst for wear. RIT didn’t spend much time leveling the score, equalizing 2:45 into the period when forward Adam Hartley put home a loose puck in the St. Cloud crease past Huskies goaltender Mike Lee.
SCSU turned on the class from there, though, and winger Ben Hanowski redirected from close range a long shot from defenseman Nick Jensen to put the Huskies ahead for good with 9:39 left to play.
Forward Travis Novak later put the win on ice, slotting home an empty-net goal with just under 27 seconds left in the game.
“It was a hard-fought game,” SCSU head coach Bob Motzko told reporters after the match. “I thought it was very physical, and I thought (RIT) had the advantage in the first period, and they outworked us there.
“In the next two periods, I thought we started to battle back. I liked how we responded, and overall I’m pleased with how we came out of the night.
“(RIT) has won a lot of hockey games, and they know how to win. It was always going to be hard-fought, and it took us a while to match their intensity. Once we started to do that, I liked how we seemed to get into the game a little bit more, but it was a heck of a hockey game.”
RIT head coach Wayne Wilson echoed Motzko’s thoughts on the game, despite his side coming out on the wrong side of the result.
“I thought it was a good hockey game for this time of year,” he said. “We were focusing more on ourselves, and I was happy with the way the young guys played. Ropponen played really well in net, and I thought he made some key saves.”
As for Dowd’s suspension, Wilson said he didn’t want to use that as an excuse for the loss, and instead pointed out what his Tigers (0-1-0) will have to do when they face Stampede host Nebraska-Omaha on Saturday night.
“When your leading scorer’s out of the lineup, you’re always going to miss that and what he brings to the table. He brings a lot to our offense and our power play, and we only had two tonight, but maybe if we scored on one of those, it’s a different game. We missed him, but that’s beside the point: We’re just going to have to get better going forward.”
SCSU (1-0-0), on the other hand, next faces Clarkson on Saturday afternoon as the Huskies try and possibly wrap up the Stampede title.