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by Erin Pollina / Buffalo Sabres
RIT (Google Images)
Brent Alexin never thought he would be here.

As he packs up his gear at the Frank Ritter Ice Arena, joking with his teammates as they exit practice, it’s obvious he is excited to be playing hockey this late in the year.

In fact, as Alexin talks about his impossible run with RIT this season to the Frozen Four, it’s clear he is simply happy to be playing hockey at all.

Born and raised in West Seneca, Alexin admittedly is a product of a hockey-obsessed community. He began playing with the Buffalo Hornets, emulating players like Dale Hawerchuk and Rob Ray. He continued to progress and played for Orchard Park High School, hoping of one day playing at the collegiate level.

However, there was one problem with his plan:

“I didn’t have any offers to play anywhere,” he laughed.

Alexin talked things over with his family and decided to enroll into a school based on academics and attempt to make its hockey team as a walk on.

“And that’s when Wayne called me up,” he said.

Wayne Wilson, the head coach for the Rochester Tigers, thought he saw some potential in the winger and presented him with a different set of options to go the collegiate route; Play one year of juniors while attending a community college and RIT would take him on their squad the following year.

Alexin agreed and stayed locally to play with the Buffalo Junior Sabres for a season, developing under Head Coach Matt English.

“The experience was good,” Alexin said. “It got me to a faster level of play, but unfortunately I got injured halfway through the year and cut my season short.”

Again, Alexin thought he might have to change his plans. Then a different opportunity presented itself.

A new exhibition tournament was commencing, called the Bowman Cup – named after legendary hockey coach Scotty Bowman. Showcasing talent from Western New York, the event was to be comprised of Buffalo and Rochester athletes competing against each other at HSBC Arena.

“I think it was actually the first year they held it,” Alexin said. “I really didn’t know anything about it, but they asked if I wanted to play on sort of an all-star team so of course I jumped at the opportunity to be involved.”

Alexin, and Buffalo, defeated Rochester in front of family and friends as well as some other familiar faces in attendance… namely the RIT coaching staff.

“I was really impressed with the way he played,” Wilson said. “I really enjoyed that whole experience of just going to the Bowman Cup overall, and on top of that, for me, Brent stood out.

“I thought his skating, his size and strength were great… the way he moved on the ice and went to the net, he was a very big strong winger.”

Because of his performance in the tournament, Wilson continued to recruit him and by the year’s end Alexin was wearing a Tiger’s uniform.

RIT fans (Google Images)
“I was just really happy that it was an offer for hockey,” Alexin said. “The fact that it was Division I was outstanding because most of the schools I was looking at were Division III. It’s the full package. The fans are great, the school is great and the academics – you couldn’t ask for anything more.”

What awaited Alexin and his teammates, however, was something they could have never dreamed of.

After experiencing a less than perfect start to the 2009-10 season, RIT soon began to go on a tear in the Atlantic Hockey Association. The Tigers were shocking their conference opponents, finishing out the year with an overall record of 22-11-1.

Their success earned them a trip to the AHA Quarterfinals, where they took on the Connecticut Huskies in a three game series. RIT easily swept the squad and advanced to the semi-finals to face Canisius.

The Golden Griffins, also, didn’t have a chance as RIT advanced to the AHA Championship game with a convincing 4-0 victory. Sacred Heart soon suffered a similar fate, losing to Rochester by a score of 6-1.

The win gave the college its first ever NCAA Tournament berth as a Division I school and put the Tigers up against a powerhouse in No. 2 ranked Denver.

In a dramatic upset, RIT prevailed and continued its Cinderella run with a 2-1 victory over the Pioneers and advance to the NCAA Regional Championship.

One game away from the Frozen Four, Rochester faced New Hampshire.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced anything like it,” Alexin said.

Both teams scored a goal in the opening frame, but the second period belonged to Rochester.

Tyler Brenner gave RIT the lead midway through the period. Just 13 seconds later, Alexin made it 3-1.

“I just took a shot from the outside, the rebound came back to me and I scored,” he said.

Steven Matic scored for the Tigers just over a minute later and ended the middle frame with a 4-1 lead.

New Hampshire would finally respond in the third period to close the gap, but it was not enough.

Rochester managed to hang on, and earn a trip to the NCAA Frozen Four with a 5-2 win over the Wildcats.

Alexin was credited with the game-winning goal.

“Unbelievable,” he said describing the win. “I never thought I would every play in it. It’s a dream for every hockey player that goes the college route; they want to eventually get to the Frozen Four and the National Championship game. But if you asked me when I first came here, I definitely never would have thought we’d have a chance. Getting this opportunity is just awesome.”

The team left campus Tuesday to head to Detroit, Michigan and prepare for their first game against the Wisconsin Badgers as Ford Field.

The teams faceoff Thursday at 5 p.m.

“Everyone is excited. It’s just a great atmosphere on campus right now. The fans, teachers, our whole team, everyone involved is so excited,” Alexin said.

While the hype, the experience and the journey has been memorable, Alexin said he won’t be disappointed if they come home empty handed.

He knows his run with college hockey, as well as RIT has been improbable, and impossible to imagine.

For Alexin, no matter what happens, he’s just happy to be there.
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