The epidemic of upsets that highlighted last year's NCAA Tournament is back again.
RIT, making its first NCAA appearance after winning the Atlantic Hockey championship, opened this year's tournament by stunning the top-seeded University of Denver 2-1 on Friday in the first game of the East Regional Semifinals in Albany N.Y. The Tigers, who entered Division I in 2005, will play third-seeded New Hampshire, which beat second-seeded Cornell 6-2 in the second game, on Saturday for the regional championship and a trip to the Frozen Four in Detroit.
Senior goaltender Jared DeMichiel stopped 39 shots and had a shutout until Joe Colborne banged in a rebound with 5:26 to play for his 22nd of the season. But the Pioneers, the regular-season champions of the WCHA and the No. 2 seed in the tournament, were unable to get another puck past DiMichiel despite pulling goaltender Marc Cheverie with 1:45 remaining. Denver put on intense pressure in the final minute but was unable to get many clean shots.
"We did a good job of playing with a lot of poise even though they were throwing pressure on us," RIT coach Wayne Wilson said. "There was a sense of calmness on the bench and on the ice for us in general versus 15 guys on the bench yelling at the five guys on the ice what to do."
Denver finished its season with a 29-8-4 record, but was upset in the opening round as a No. 1 seed for the second year in a row.
Denver coach George Gwozdecky said his team, ranked No. 1 in the country for most of the season and No. 2 entering the tournament, didn't take RIT lightly.
"There was nothing to be impressed about because we had seen them on tape and talked to a bunch of people who knew they could play," Gwozdecky said." They won their conference and conference playoff and deserved to be in the tournament. We knew it was going to be a competitive game close to their campus. There was nothing we saw that we did not already anticipate. Obviously, the critical error was giving them the puck on an uncontested turnover (for their first goal)."
The Tigers (23-5-1) stunned the Pioneers, the No. 2 seed in the 16-team field, by grabbing the lead just 5:02 into the game. Chris Taney stole the puck in the Denver zone, moved into the right circle and zipped a wrist shot past Cheverie.
DiMichel, who came into the game with a 25-9-1 record and a 2.00 goals-against average, was flawless through the first two periods, stopping 11 shots in the first and 15 more in the second as the Pioneers began to control more of the play
However, it was the Tigers who got the next goal. With RIT on only its second power play of the game, Cameron Burt took a perfect backdoor pass from Andrew Favot and hit the wide-open net at 12:26 for a 2-0 lead.
Colborne, the Boston Bruins' top pick in the 2008 Entry Draft, gave the Pioneers some life when he jammed in one of the few rebounds allowed by DeMichiel. But the Tigers, who were 19-0-1 this season when leading after two periods, hung on down the stretch; RIT hasn't lost a game in which it led after two periods since November 2007.
In the second game, Wildcats' captain Bobby Butler, Paul Thompson and Mike Sislo each scored twice as UNH ran off five unanswered goals after spotting the Big Red a 1-0 lead after the first period.
Butler's first goal, which tied the game, came at 16:47 of the second period on a wrist shot that needed a video review. Not until play was stopped 44 seconds later did a review show that Butler's shot from the slot had gone through the net, tying the score.
The 44 seconds were put back on the clock, and Sislo scored 26 seconds later to put New Hampshire ahead to stay. The two goals ended a scoreless drought for UNH (18-13-7) that extended nearly eight periods, including a pair of 1-0 shutout losses to Vermont in the first round of the Hockey East tournament.
"The second goal was huge," Wildcats coach Dick Umile said. "Sislo's goal going into the second period (intermission) was huge and I think at that point, that was all behind us about not being able to score."
The 'Cats blew the game open with four goals in the third period, capped by Thompson's empty-netter after Dan Nicholls scored for Cornell (21-9-4) with 2:11 remaining.
"They were obviously the better hockey team," Cornell coach Mike Schafer said after his team out outshot 37-26.
Material from wire services and school and national media was used in this report