Chris Lerch, commentator for RIT hockey and a man whose voice you'll hear on Saturday night if you spring for the broadcast of the BC-RIT game, was kind enough to answer some questions about the Tigers in advance of this weekend's matchup. This was one of the best hockey Q&A responses we've ever gotten at the blog, filled with lots of interesting information about both the current RIT team and the big picture view of their program. I hope you find it informative!
1. RIT opened up a new building last weekend. How did that go? Tell us about the new venue and what it means for RIT hockey.
It was fun. I've been more cautious than most here about the move from Ritter Arena, which has been one of the loudest and most intimidating places to play in college hockey. The new building obviously has more amenities and is twice the size, and I was happy with the volume and atmosphere at the first few games. But it will take some getting used to after watching and broadcasting for almost 30 years at the old place.
This new facility is important to the program because without scholarships, RIT needs to appeal to potential players by offering a great player experience, and the current players seemed thrilled with the new place.
2. With that excitement out of the way...now there's a game off campus, at the local AHL arena--a game against BC. Where does this rank on the list of big games RIT has played in its history?
Games at Blue Cross are always special. RIT doesn't have a football team and hockey is the only Division I sport at RIT--the only Division I sport in Rochester. This is our homecoming game, which RIT calls Brick City Weekend, and if you've seen the campus, you'd understand the name. RIT has sold the place out (10,600) the past few years for Brick City and has played some quality programs there, including Michigan last season. This game is already sold out.
The teams have only played once before: BC defeated RIT 6-0 in the championship game of the Mariucci Classic in 2007. A win over the Gophers the night before was a big moment in the history of the program, which was in only its third season at the D-I level at that point. With the exception of last season, RIT has knocked off at least one ranked team each season, the biggest ones coming over Denver and UNH in the Albany Regional in 2010.
I broadcasted that RIT-BC game from Minnesota and I remember it was 1-0 BC after two periods and then the Eagles turned on the jets in the third. Nathan Gerbe had a great game.
The connection with BC is the coaching staff on each team--both head coach Wayne Wilson and his top assistant Brian Hills played for Jerry York at Bowling Green. Wilson captained the 1984 national championship team at BGSU and Hills was a Hobey Baker finalist for Jerry the year before.
3. Last weekend was up and down for the Tigers, drubbing SLU before falling to Clarkson on Saturday. What were your impressions of the team's performance? What went well on Friday that didn't on Saturday?
After a couple of dismal seasons, the consensus among fans and coaches was that last weekend was one of the best efforts we've seen from RIT in a while. There's some cautious optimism after those two games. I don't think there was much of a difference in effort from Friday to Saturday. Clarkson looks to be a better team than SLU and I think it was more about the opponents than the way the Tigers played.
4. What were expectations coming in to the season for RIT? Last season was a bit of a tough year, with the Tigers going 12-20-5.
I picked RIT to finish seventh in the media poll, the same as the Tigers were picked to finish in the coaches poll. That seems about right but we'll know more after they open their conference schedule with two tough road trips at Air Force and at Robert Morris.
5. What style of play should BC expect to see from RIT? As underdogs in the game will they be largely looking to defend or should we expect RIT to look to attack at home?
RIT has always been an aggressive, attacking team. That works well when you've got good goaltending to bail you out, which hasn't always been the case the past two seasons. They'll give up odd-man rushes, and last year the defense paid the price with a pretty dismal 3.35 GAA. The offense, which has traditionally been near the top of the league and top 10 nationally, has sputtered the past two seasons. Special teams were excellent as has always been the case with RIT. But they had trouble scoring five on five last year.
6. Jordan Ruby and Ken MacLean split the goaltending duties last weekend for RIT. Who should BC expect to see on Saturday? What's the scouting report on him?
I wish I could tell you what's going on with goaltending, but I have no idea LOL. Last season both Jordan Ruby and Mike Rotolo struggled at times, so there was no clear starter. Rotolo got most of the starts at the end of the season. But last weekend, Wilson went with Ruby and Ken MacLean, who had only started one other game in his first two seasons. Both played pretty well last weekend, and while I think Rotolo will get the start on Saturday, I wouldn't be surprised to see any of them in net. If they are all playing well, it' a good problem to have.
7. Big picture question: with the magical 2010 run to the Frozen Four in the rear view mirror, what are the expectations in the RIT community for this program over the long run? RIT has challenges that few programs face in recruiting, but we've also seen plenty of smaller-named schools--including RIT!--find success in recent years.
Without that Frozen Four appearance in 2010, there's not a new $38 million rink in 2014. That's how important it was to the program. It set the bar pretty high, and the past few seasons have been about managing expectations. I've been to over 20 Frozen Fours, covering them for USCHO.com and before that print media, and I know how hard it is to get there, especially for teams not named Boston College, Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota, etc.
Seeing Union win last year was just more affirmation that a school without scholarships can be successful in college hockey.
8. And to put you on the spot: what do you think happens in this game? And how does RIT do this season?
RIT has a history of playing to the level of its opponents (good and bad), and as I said before has knocked off its fair share of big schools: Minnesota, Denver, Michigan, UNH, Cornell, Ferris, etc. Last year's Brick City game against Michigan was a wild one: got down 4-0 early, came back to tie it 4-4, then ran out of gas and lost 7-4. I certainly don't expect the Tigers to win this one, especially with BC coming in off of a loss. But it's not out of the realm of possibility.
Chris Lerch can be found on the dial in Rochester on WITR 89.7 FM. Games are also broadcast online.