Score one for Atlantic Hockey. Again.
For the third time in the last five seasons, a fourth-seeded Atlantic Hockey team made noise in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
In 2006, Holy Cross knocked off Minnesota with 4-3 overtime victory in the opening round. Last season, a fluky delayed goal call in overtime was all that stood between Air Force and the Frozen Four.
This year it was RIT’s turn, earning a win in their first Division I tournament appearance, and in the process gaining redemption for Atlantic Hockey’s putrid 20-55-5 out-of-conference record in 2009-10.
“We’re so happy to be able to contribute from an Atlantic Hockey standpoint and represent RIT as well,” Tigers coach Wayne Wilson said.
“I don’t think we have to prove [anything] to ourselves,” RIT senior goaltender Jared DeMichiel said of his conference. “I don’t know if Atlantic Hockey will ever get the respect it deserves. It’s the same in NCAA basketball were you have the big conferences like the Big East and ACC and then you have the mid-majors.”
DeMichiel went a long ways towards garnering some respect, tying a career-high with 39 saves in RIT’s 2-1 win. It was the Tigers’ 11th straight win, longest in school history, and longest in Division I hockey this season.
“He handled rebounds well and he was seeing things through traffic,” Denver forward Joe Colborne said of DeMichiel. “RIT plays a terrific system.”
When the Pioneers sliced the lead to one in the closing minutes, DeMichiel was there to stonewall any thought of a Denver comeback.
“I thought we were going to get another one,” Pioneers forward and Hobey Baker finalist Rhett Rakhshani said. “But their goalie stood his ground and they stood their ground.”
Right at Home On the Road
While top seeded Denver was technically the home team at the Times Union Center in Albany, it was the visiting Tigers that brought out the most fans. No surprise there, as the RIT faithful only had a cross-state drive, while Pioneers fans are situated two time zones away.
“Our fans have been outstanding since I first got the job 11 years ago,” Wilson said. “We have a very strong following and with a game like tonight, we can build off that. [Our arena] only holds 2,100, but it’s as good an environment as any team in any league can play in. We’re proud of our fans, facilities, and our school.”
No. 1 is No Fun
For the second year in a row, Denver grabbed the No. 1 in its regional.
For the second year in a row, it’s a one and done for the Pioneers. This year’s loss comes after a disappointing showing in the WCHA Final Five, with losses to Wisconsin and North Dakota.
“I certainly thought our preparation and whole mental outlook going into this game was much different and surpassed the preparation we did for last weekend,” Denver coach George Gwozdecky said. “We were the hunted all year long in our league and at times nationally. I thought these guys did a terrific job throughout the season.”