RIT deserves love, even in loss
Alas, as hockey people say, the first game “sucked, eh?” It pitted Wisconsin, a perennial powerhouse and the 2006 champion, against Rochester Institute of Technology, which did not have a team until last Tuesday.
I’m kidding about RIT. But the Tigers are the new kids on the Frozen Four block, an irresistible combination of Butler, George Mason and MIT. RIT was the 15th seed in a 16-team field, then beat No. 2 seed Denver and New Hampshire to make the Frozen Four.
RIT is a wonderful story, and the problem with wonderful sports stories is that they usually end in figurative tragedy. Wisconsin, the tournament’s third seed, was better than RIT in every conceivable way and a few ways that nobody had ever conceived.
With 6 minutes left in the second period, the Badgers led 6-0. RIT had fired only seven shots on goal, and while we all know that shots don’t tell the whole story in hockey, I think it’s fair to say that shots are, on balance, the best way to score.
RIT was in piles of trouble. This surely accounted for the fact that Ford Field did not remotely seem like it was hosting one of the great, unappreciated American sporting events. There were five groups of fans in the building, and four of those groups were cheering for RIT:
1. RIT fans (of course).
2. Miami (Ohio) fans (who would rather play a weaker team in the final, if they got past Boston College).
3. Boston College fans (who felt just like Miami fans).
4. All other fans (who love a good underdog story).
The only ones cheering for Wisconsin were Wisconsin fans. And frankly, even they seemed to be saving their vocal cords for Saturday’s championship game. The final score was Wisconsin 8, RIT 1, and it could have been worse.
Somehow, though, the blowout made RIT’s tournament run even more impressive. RIT coach Wayne Wilson said: “Hey, we ran into just a powerhouse team,” and the Badgers were indeed stronger, faster, more poised and more skilled than RIT.
“In the second period in particular, it just seemed like we had no chance of getting anything going,” Wilson said.
Wilson tried to point to a couple of keys to the game—Wisconsin’s second goal, the power plays in the second period—but it was like hearing somebody say that maybe if that car had flame-retardant seats and did not use gas, it would not have exploded. The details seemed besides the point.
And yet: the lopsided result was a reminder that RIT had, indeed, had a magical run. After all, Denver was seeded higher than Wisconsin, yet RIT found a way to beat Denver. Somebody else will win the national championship, but the RIT Tigers earned something different, and almost as cool: a feeling that they belonged with the big boys.