When RIT men's hockey coach Wayne Wilson spoke about Sunday's loss against University Nebraska Omaha (20-12-6) to RIT SportsZone, he had this to say:
"I thought we created a lot of chances, and obviously we are disappointed with tonight's outcome, but I am proud of what we accomplished this weekend against two really good opponents."
It's a modest way to frame what has easily been the most exciting weekend for men's hockey all season, coming out of a season that was absolutely packed with unforgettable games. For a while, right in the thick of the season, it really seemed like the men's hockey team could go all the way to the NCAA finals, and that still seems like a reasonable belief to have after the fact. The team was on fire almost all season in terms of utter consistency, professionalism, offensive playing and recouping after difficult losses. They fell to teams of equal caliber and triumphed over those whose defeat seemed impossible. The very fact that the team was able to make it back to the NCAA games is a small victory of its own, and despite their ultimate end at the hands of Nebraska, there's no shortage of things to feel inspired by coming from RIT's 2014-2015 men's hockey season.
The electricity surrounding the Tigers as they headed into Saturday's match against No. 1-seeded Minnesota State at the NCAA Midwest Regional Semifinal at Notre Dame was staggering. Chalking up their eighth-straight win, the team managed to pull off a victory against seemingly insurmountable odds, sending fans into a frenzy and taking home a victory for the books.
Third year forward and Environmental Science major Josh Mitchell had what was probably the most uplifting moment of the night, scoring with five minutes left in regulation to break a 1-1 tie and clinch a victory for the Tigers. Fourth year forward and Business Management major Brad McGowan, who was also absolutely on fire throughout the game, fed the puck to Mitchell across the ice and fired a shot across Nebraska goaltender Stephon Williams. Much to the Tigers' dismay, however, the play was initially declared a no-goal as referees claimed that fourth year forward and Business Management major Matt Garbowsky had caused a Minnesota defender to collide with Williams. After an extensive and nail-biting video review, however, the ruling was overturned and RIT secured their victory.
"I thought there were a lot of moments in the game where we came up big and we weathered Minnesota State's pressure. I was very proud with how we responded with the lead late and were very composed," the always-modest Wilson said to RIT SportsZone.
One might think that the following night's loss against University of Nebraska Omaha would be absolutely crushing for a team riding a nine-game winning streak, but it seems like the Tigers took the whole thing in stride. The team is grateful simply for the opportunity to be at the NCAA tournament, and to make it as far as they did is still a huge achievement for any team. Nebraska managed to shut out the Tigers 4-0, creating a swift and decisive end to the season for RIT.
Nebraska scored a whopping four goals in the third period, breaking an entirely scoreless game and ensuring RIT's defeat. Perhaps the biggest obstacle that RIT faced from Nebraska was their seemingly unstoppable goaltender, Ryan Massa, who recorded his sixth shutout of the season. RIT had 40 shots on goal and 18 of them were all in the third period, but Massa was truly relentless in pushing back the Tigers' offense. Despite the loss, however, the Tigers still managed to pull off some really great performances from some of the weekend's strongest players. Garbowsky led the team in shots, racking up seven shots on goal and winning 26 out of a total of 40 different face-offs. Fourth year goaltender and Psychology major Jordan Ruby, continuing his truly remarkable weekend in terms of outstanding performance, stopped 24 of 27 shots sent his way and still managed to pull off some huge saves in the process.
"I thought it was a great hockey game, and I am very proud of the way we played. Congratulations to Omaha, they played well and their goaltender was outstanding," Wilson said to RIT SportsZone, before adding "I am really proud of this senior class, getting us back to the NCAA tournament and the bar that they set for this program."
It's hard to imagine not being proud of the Tigers for all of their accomplishments this season, pre and post. For a team that still finds itself in a constant uphill battle against other teams, the Tigers have a wonderful tendency to make things look totally effortless when they need to. They're the kind of team worth placing a great deal of confidence in, because while they're certainly not immune to the occasional embarrassing play or upsetting loss, they always manage to turn back around and pull a huge win for RIT. This season, without a doubt, is one for the books.
It's sad to think that the Tigers will be losing so many great graduating players this year, but some of the best performances of this entire season came from first years who seemed to come almost entirely out of nowhere. The prominence of the Tigers doesn't rest on the shoulders of those who are leaving the program, but rather on those who are entrusted in carrying out its credibility. We've seen enough examples of fierce young talent this year to know that everything is going to be fine. If this season is any indication of what the future of the Tigers is going to be, it's safe to say that there are some bright horizons in store for RIT hockey. The team managed to take the program amazing distances this year, so here's to hoping that we'll be able to go even further next season.