When the RIT Tigers kick-off their 2014-15 season at home against St. Lawrence University on Friday, they’ll do so in unfamiliar surroundings.
After playing their home games in the Frank Ritter Memorial Arena for 46 years, the Tigers will now set up shop in the new state-of-the-art Gene Polisseni Center. The arena, which cost $38 million to construct, was named after the long-time friend and employee of RIT trustee Tom Golisano.
Needless to say, RIT head coach Wayne Wilson is excited about the team’s new digs.
“We’re really fortunate to play in this facility. I think it shows the support of our administration for our hockey programs, both men and women. We’re very grateful for their support,” said Wilson, who is entering his 16th season as RIT’s head coach. “As a team we’d like to make it our home. It’s a neutral building right now; there haven’t been any wins or losses in it. We’ve got to make it ours.”
In order to do that, Wilson’s team will have to rebound from last season, when the Tigers finished 12-20-5 overall and 10-14-3 in Atlantic Hockey conference play.
RIT TIGERS 2014-15 SCHEDULE
Wilson believes team captain Matt Garbowsky, who tallied seven points (2+5) in 13 games last year, will be at the center of that turnaround. The senior forward from St. George, Ont., missed nearly four months and 24 games due to injury last season.
“Matt is the soul of our team. We really missed him when he broke his wrist during the regular season last year. We’re really excited to have him back.”
In addition to having Garbowsky back on the ice, Wilson will also look toward the incoming freshmen class. One name in particular should be familiar to fans of Buffalo hockey. Cheektowaga native and former Buffalo Jr. Sabre Max Mikowski has already left an impression on his new coach.
“I love him. I love his attitude. He’s kind of an ugly player, which he may not like me saying,” said Wilson. “His work ethic, his energy, his play along the boards, and his passion are all positives. He brings a great dimension to our team.”
In net, Wilson will turn to sophomore Mike Rotolo and senior Jordan Ruby. The two goaltenders split time last year in a season of ups and downs. According to Wilson, both men will be afforded the opportunity to stake their claim to the starting job.
“We’re looking for some consistency from our goaltending. We’re going to play everyone here and then see where things stand,” explained Wilson. “We’re looking for someone to take charge in net on a very consistent basis. When things break down, and they will, we need someone to help us recover and stay on task.”
The Tigers’ schedule this season has several notable non-conference opponents, including a home game at Blue Cross Arena on October 18 against perennial-powerhouse Boston College. In early January, RIT will take part in the Mariucci Classic in Minnesota for the first time since 2007. Depending on their first game against the UMass-Lowell on Jan. 2, RIT could face the Minnesota Gophers on Jan. 3.
On a personal level, Wilson will coach against his son, Stu, when RIT visits Yale on November 29 in New Haven, Conn.
In addition to their tough non-conference schedule, RIT will take on Canisius College on November 14-15 at the newly-constructed HARBORCENTER in downtown Buffalo.
“We’re excited about the opportunity. It’s a great rink and it’s going to be great for the community,” Wilson said. “You’ve already seen what our new arena has meant to our community, and I believe HARBORCENTER is going to have the same impact there.”
While those games certainly may draw a bit more attention, Wilson is mindful of maintaining an even-keeled and consistent approach throughout the season.
“Our work ethic should always be the same whether you win a championship or you don’t. I think our mindset is that we were disappointed in our finish last year and we want to rectify that this year.”