The Rochester Institute of Technology capped a season of adversity with the 2016 Atlantic Hockey tournament championship, defending its title from last year.
The adversity largely centered around injuries, as at different points of the season, many key players were hurt for the Tigers. Not the least of those have been goaltender Mike Rotolo and forward Dan Schuler, the latter of whom is still out with a head injury.
“We had lots of injuries this year,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson in his postgame address after Saturday night’s 7-4 victory over top-seeded Robert Morris. “This is the first night we have had the majority of our players on the ice.”
Whether it was having the bulk of their roster back or the loud home crowd of 3,372 at Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena, the Tigers managed to beat the Colonials at their own, up-and-down, speed-oriented offensive game. Big performers on the night were freshman forward Liam Kerins (two goals) and Myles Powell (three points), who earned the tournament’s most outstanding player honors.
Perhaps the biggest victory for the Tigers, however, came Sunday afternoon. When the regional brackets were announced, they learned they will be playing downstate in Albany. This means a three-hour trip for their fans from Rochester, and back to the site of RIT’s stunners over Denver and New Hampshire to advance to the 2010 Frozen Four.
Loser: Robert Morris Colonials
The back-to-back regular-season champions once again tasted bitter defeat in the last weekend of the Atlantic Hockey tournament.
“It stinks not to make it,” said head coach Derek Schooley after the game. “There are some tears in the locker room right now.”
Despite the sting of the defeat, Schooley did not pull any punches when it came to his assessment of his team’s performance.
“We did not play our best hockey game of the year,” he said. “We gave up too many odd-man rushes.”
The stats do not disagree, as RIT’s seven goals were the most Robert Morris allowed in a single game all season. Discipline was another problem for the Colonials, as they took a team total of 38 penalty minutes on 11 infractions. RIT went 3-for-6 on the power play.
All of this means a senior class that included players like Brandon Denham and Zac Lynch has played its final NCAA game prematurely, just as the senior class led by Cody Wydo and Scott Jacklin had in 2015.
In the semifinal game between Army and Robert Morris, the Black Knights posted a spectacular performance, especially defensively, forcing overtime.
“It was our type of game,” said coach Brian Riley. “All of our players bought into how we play defense.”
Despite the 36 shots on goal from Robert Morris, the defense was able to limit second chances and force the majority of the shots from the outside, which helped netminder Parker Gahagen make his 34 saves.
The playoff experience should prove beneficial to a fairly young Army squad returning the likes of Tyler Pham, Conor Anderle and Gahagen next year. The Black Knights have officially put the rest of the league on notice for next season with their performance this postseason.
Loser: Terry Shafer
Friday night proved to be a very good homecoming for the Rochester-area native, but Saturday night was a thorough opposite. Only making 22 of 29 saves makes for a very poor stat line, but Schafer did not look comfortable in net throughout the game.
Not all of the goals were Shafer’s fault, as the defensive breakdowns and large number of penalties did not help his cause. But if you want to win the conference title, you need your goaltender to step up and make tough saves, which Shafer was unable to do Saturday.
Winner: Myles Powell
Winning the conference championship and earning the tournament’s most outstanding player honor make Powell the obvious choice for a winner of the tournament. His three goals and one assist in both games this weekend included the overtime winner over Air Force in the semifinal, a goal Powell described to the assembled media as “just trying to get the shot on net and it went in.”
On his weekend as a whole, the soft-spoken Powell simply said, “It was about being in the right place and burying the puck.”
He did that to great effect, and helped the Tigers reach their third NCAA tournament in school history.