The 2015-16 Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers could not match their predecessors’ performance by knocking off the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.
Quinnipiac succeeded this season where Minnesota State failed last year, as the Bobcats were too much for the Tigers to contain in Saturday’s first East Regional semifinals. The 4-0 loss was hardly for a lack of effort on the Tigers’ part. It was simply superior play from Quinnipiac forward Soren Jonzzon and goaltender Michael Garteig, who stopped many quality RIT chances.
Season of adversity
The end result does not mean the 2015-16 campaign was a failure. In fact, many would say it is a success given the way the Tigers looked at the end of January and through the month of February.
Injuries to both Mike Rotolo and Christian Short meant that former club hockey goaltender Nick Amato had to start four games for the Tigers. Amato held him own by going 2-1-1 in those four games, but the loss of their goaltenders put the Tigers on the bubble for getting a bye in the Atlantic Hockey playoffs.
They would barely earn the fifth and final first-round bye, allowing The bye allowed both Rotolo and Short to return healthy. With their return, and a well-rested stable of skaters, the Tigers were able to make a strong run in defense of their AHA title.
Their second conference championship in as many years would not seem surprising to anyone merely looking at the result of last season and the preseason Atlantic Hockey polls. But when the Tigers beat Robert Morris in Rochester to win back-to-back conference titles, the adversity they had faced throughout the intervening regular season made the victory surprising.
Young talent emerges
Myles Powell grew to become one of the Tiger’s main goal scoring threats and won the most outstanding player honors of the last weekend of the Atlantic Hockey tournament. Powell along with freshmen Liam Kerins and Gabe Valenzuela are just a few of the young players the Tigers have on their roster that can replace the talents of players like Josh Mitchell and Alexander Kuqali who graduate at the end of this season.
The play of the young freshmen players up front along with the ability to overcome both the starting and backup goalie going down to injury make this season a surprise despite the preseason expectations the Tigers shouldered.
Looking forward to next season the Tigers lose the aforementioned Kuqali and Mitchell, along with Andrew Miller and Greg Amlong. They should not have much trouble replacing the production of Mitchell and Miller, as the emergence of Valenzuela and Powell shows hope for the future up front for the Tigers.
RIT should be good on the backend as well. It returns its two top defensemen in Chase and Brady Norrish, along with Matt Abt, who seems to improve with every game he plays.
In net, the Tigers find themselves in great shape with Rotolo set to return for his senior season and Short set to back him up. The extra experience Short gained this season can only help the young netminder, and is sure to engender more confidence among Wayne Wilson and his coaching staff.
So, what are reasonable expectations for the Tigers next season? All signs would say it could be their conference to lose with the return of many key players in key positions.
However, with the emergence of young teams like Air Force and Mercyhurst, it is safe to say that the conference will not be a walkover for anyone. If the Tigers stay healthy, they have a chance to three-peat. But the increasing parity in Atlantic Hockey means that most teams in the conference have an equally realistic chance at the crown.