By Derek Berry
DETROIT – The Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers were the Cinderella darlings of the 2010 NCAA Hockey Tournament. Coming into the Frozen Four they were the proverbial underdog everyone was rooting for. But the University of Wisconsin Badgers didn’t let Cinderella get to the last dance.
Wisconsin declawed the Tigers on their way to a resounding 8-1 pounding. The Badgers started strong and kept right on attacking all the way to the final whistle.
The Badgers have now appeared in 11 Frozen Fours including this one, the first held in a football-style stadium – Ford Field in Detroit, home of the NFL’s Detroit Lions.
If Wisconsin was Goliath, then the David of the entire NCAA hockey tournament this year was surely RIT. The Tigers, which came into the tournament on a 12-game winning streak, saw their national title dreams come to an end. This was the first time RIT had even made the NCAA tournament, nevermind its first ever trip to the Frozen Four in just its fifth season of Division I college hockey. They became the first team to make it to the Frozen Four in their first try in the tournament.
But Wisconsin killed any chance of an upset very early in the game.
“It was our emphasis to get off to a great start,” said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves. “We wanted to take their time and space away. Getting that good start was paramount for us.”
Badgers senior forward Blake Geoffrion agreed with his coach: “One of the strengths of our team is our depth,” said the Hobey Baker finalist. “We got off to a great start.”
Wisconsin notched the first goal of the game in the early going. The Badgers kept the play deep in RIT’s zone and senior forward John Mitchell scooped up a rebound and put it past RIT’s heralded senior goaltender Jared DeMichiel to make it 1-0.
The Badgers hounded the Tigers with an aggressive forecheck and played mistake-free through most of the game. They dominated on faceoffs and were good on the penalty kill. RIT had few scoring chances, but did score their lone goal on the power play.
Wisconsin’s second goal came on a faceoff and it was a goal that will make New York Rangers fans happy. Junior defenseman Ryan McDonagh fired a shot from the point and fellow Rangers draft pick Derek Stepan, one of the Badgers leading scorers this year, tipped in the rebound to make it 2-0.
“2-0 was a changing point in the game,” said RIT head coach Wayne Wilson. “They were stronger and quicker and we had a tough time generating anything.”
Even the Tigers acknowledged the Badgers’ strong start hurt their chances.
“Whenever a team gets two goals that fast, it’s tough,” said Cameron Burt, RIT sophomore forward from Detroit. “We dug ourselves a deep hole to get out of.”
The Badgers took complete control in the second period, notching three power play goals while a parade of RIT Tigers going to the penalty box, including a game misconduct penalty to Tigers sophomore forward Mark Cornacchia.
Wisconsin built a 6-0 lead on goals by Jordy Murray, Justin Schultz (Anaheim Ducks), senior forward Michael Davies, the Badgers leading scorer on the season from St. Louis, and Geoffrion (Nashville Predators).
“Our power play got rolling,” said sophomore Stepan. “Once the snowball got moving, it kept building and building. That’s when we’re at our best.”
The Badgers did what Denver and New Hampshire couldn’t do against RIT in the Tigers’ two NCAA wins that got them to the Frozen Four – controlled the tempo and made few mistakes. Wisconsin seemed to be passing perfectly around the RIT defense as if they were pylons.
The Tigers finally got on the board at the end of the second period with a goal by sophomore forward Tyler Brenner making it 6-1.
Wisconsin kept attacking in the third period, still not giving much to RIT, despite the fact they were up by five goals. The Tigers showed they are capable of putting up a lot of goals quickly and the Badgers knew it.
Wisconsin finished off the Tigers with two late goals from freshman forward Craig Smith (Nashville Predators) and Stepan, notching his second goal of the game.
The score was the highest in a NCAA semifinal since 1969, but the Tigers said it was not indicative of how they played during their remarkable season.
“Two mistakes in the first period weren’t that bad,” said RIT senior goaltender Jared DeMichiel, playing his final game in a Tigers uniform. “The second period was the backbreaker for the game.”
For RIT, it’s R.I.P. on their terrific season. Although with a good deal of their roster returning, the Tigers could find themselves in the Frozen Four again in the near future.
Tigers coach Wilson knows he’s got a good squad, but was reflective afterward saying: “You can’t pick how you’re going to end your season. You never know when you’re going to get back here.”
Wisconsin’s Geoffrion is one of the finalists for the 2010 Hobey Baker Memorial Award, given annually to the top player in U.S. college hockey. The other finalists are New Hampshire senior forward Bobby Butler, who scored 29 goals in 39 games, the leader in the country and Gustav Nyquist, sophomore forward from the Maine Black Bears. Nyquist led the country this season in points and assists.
The Hobey Baker Award ceremony takes place live at Ford Field in Detroit on Friday night at 7 p.m. EST and will be televised on ESPNU…
Geoffrion is a Nashville Predators draft pick. New Hampshire’s Butler recently signed as a free agent with the Ottawa Senators. Nyquist is a Detroit Red Wings draft pick…
Thursday’s opening semifinal marked the third time the Badgers played hockey in a football stadium. Earlier this season, the Badgers played a home game at their team’s venue – Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisc. – defeating the University of Michigan. In February of 2006, the Badgers played at legendary Lambeau Field against Ohio State and beat the Buckeyes in that contest as well…
Speaking of football stadiums, Ford Field officials had to make sure the temperature inside the stadium was a cool 59 degrees Fahrenheit and ice temperature cold, at 24 degrees. There were some problems during opening day practice Wednesday with the humidity in the Detroit area. But Thursday was much cooler and players said the ice conditions were pretty good…
The RIT Tigers had great support with a large student section that traveled from Rochester, N.Y., to see the Tigers play the Badgers. The players were touched by the media and fan frenzy: “It really affected us in a positive way,” said DeMichiel. “We were honored and privileged to get that type of attention (from media and fans). We never knew we meant that much to the school.”
Derek Berry is a freelance writer for TheHockeyNews.com and covers the CCHA as a freelance writer for Michigan Hockey Magazine.