When you talk about big-time rivalries in Division III in the East, various matchups come to mind. Elmira vs. RIT. Middlebury vs. Norwich. Colby vs. Bowdoin. Plattsburgh vs. Oswego. Potsdam vs. RIT.
Wait a second, what was that last one? Potsdam vs. RIT?
Well, okay, that’s not a rivalry most people think about. As a matter of fact, few players, coaches, or fans would consider that a rivalry in any sense of the word. In a series that is so lopsided that RIT leads it 31-6-1, there is even less reason to be attracted to it.
So why even mention it, much less write a whole article about it? Because this series has a unique history that includes a reference to one of the most popular TV shows, historic moments for one school, Mother Nature twice getting the last laugh, and lately more games cancelled than played.
Though they first met during the 1974-75 season (RIT won 10-3), the peculiarities started in the 1980-81 season. At that point, both programs were starting to make their marks. Potsdam, in just its fourth year as a varsity team, was making some headway, including a stunning 8-5 victory over Plattsburgh, which came into the game 10-0 with victories over Division I opponents. RIT was starting to gain national recognition as it moved to the ECAC Division II level.
The two teams squared off that year in a home and home series, albeit ten days apart, the first being played in Rochester. Potsdam had an assistant captain by the name of John Rowe. During the game, while Rowe was skating the puck through the neutral zone, he was checked straight on by an RIT player. It was a perfectly clean check. However, the checker caught Rowe’s hand in an awkward position, bending it back, and breaking Rowe’s wrist.
RIT went on to win the game, 8-7.
When they returned the following week to Potsdam, Rowe had his hand in a plastic cast and was back on the ice. However, the Bears’ faithful were none too happy. This was the TV season that had the entire nation wondering who shot J.R. Ewing from the TV show Dallas.
Fans in Potsdam wanted to know a much more important question. As the teams came out on the ice, students held up signs demanding to know, “Who Broke J.R.’s Wrist?”
RIT again won by one goal, this time 4-3.
The following year, both teams would mark historic firsts. Potsdam wound up in the ECAC West playoffs for the first time, and RIT posted its first 20-plus win season. The teams would also have an historic matchup, at least from Potsdam’s perspective.
Early in the season, RIT defeated Potsdam, 7-4. They met again up in Potsdam early in the second semester. Potsdam’s goaltender, Randy Brown, was just coming off giving the Bears their first shutout in school history, 6-0, against Hamilton. He repeated the feat against RIT, 5-0. Those back-to-back blankings were part of Brown’s then-ECAC record for consecutive shutout minutes at 166:29.
The series went along without too much excitement for the next few years, all of which were dominated by RIT. In the 1983-84 season alone, the Tigers shut out Potsdam twice, 4-0 and 6-0. The scores got a bit worse after that, but in 1988-89, Potsdam could rightfully blame one blowout on the weather.
That matchup was at RIT. As the fans gathered in Ritter Arena, all they saw was one team warming up — RIT. There was no sign of Potsdam. After the warmups, still no sign of Potsdam. The starting time came and went, and still no Bears to be seen.
Finally, after about an hour wait, the Potsdam bus pulled in, hampered by bad weather on the trip down from the North Country. As the Potsdam players entered the building from the Zamboni side of the rink, they had to walk across the visitor’s side of the stands to get to their locker room. The fans erupted in a huge cheer.
This had to be the only time in Ritter Arena history that the fans cheered so loudly for the visiting team.
Needless to say, with Potsdam having no time to stretch out its bus legs, RIT went on to trounce the Bears, 9-4.
The series once again went into a slumber as the teams went from playing each other twice a year to only once. Then, in 1995-96, the schools met three times, thanks to another historic first for Potsdam.
The one regular-season meeting saw RIT take a 7-4 victory. Both teams would go on to win their respective conference championships and qualify for the NCAA playoffs. It was the first time ever for Potsdam, and naturally, the Bears marked the occasion by going up against RIT.
Though the first game was tight for a while, RIT’s stronger squad swept the Bears, 6-3 and 5-3.
In the late ’90s, the series started to slow down as more games were cancelled than played. An early January game in 1998 was slated at Potsdam. However, that was the year that a devastating ice storm struck the North Country and southern Quebec. With concerns about getting food to those living in remote areas, trying to get a bus to the school naturally was low on the priority list. There was no choice but to cancel the game.
They did play the following year on January 8, 1999, a 10-0 win for RIT in Rochester. They didn’t play again until November 2, 2002. They tried. The cycle was to have RIT travel to Potsdam next, but without being able to put together a two-game swing for RIT, no game was scheduled.
They did manage to schedule a game for 2000-01, but RIT discovered it miscalculated the number of games that counted towards its limit due to scheduling two exhibition games against the U.S. Under-18 team. RIT chose the Potsdam contest to drop.
The following year, again, no game was scheduled. For the 2002-03 season, they did play up in Potsdam. RIT won, 4-3 in overtime.
The teams face off this weekend at RIT, the first time at Ritter Arena since that 1999 date. It may be just another non-conference matchup in their respective series, and the players and fans may not think much of it, but based on some peculiar history, you never know what may happen.
Assuming the game is even played. The weather report? Snow, icy roads, and temperatures hovering around zero.
If you’re going, bring a book. Just in case.