If any members of the RIT men’s hockey team aren’t sure what to expect when the puck drops at 3 p.m. Friday in the NCAA East Regional Semifinals, they need only look toward their own bench for advice.
RIT Head Coach Wayne Wilson and Associate Head Coach Brian Hills know all about it. The two were teammates in the early 1980s at Bowling Green University. Wilson was a defenseman and Hills a forward when the Falcons lost in the NCAA regional final in 1982. The next year, after being ranked No. 1 in the country for much of the season, Bowling Green failed to capture an at-large bid into the tournament following a late season loss. Hills graduated after that season. Wilson rebounded from that disappointment and went on to captain the Falcons to a national championship in 1984.
The lessons learned during those tournament battles will be put to use as RIT continues its preparation for its showdown with the University of Denver.
“It’s important to reflect on things that have happened in your life and to use that knowledge to help you get through things in the future,” says Wilson.
Hills knows that this weekend could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for his team.
“You don’t get that many opportunities in life to compete for championships,” he says. “When those opportunities come, you better take advantage.”
These are lessons that have been drilled into this current crop of Tigers over the last several years, having suffered disappointing losses in the Atlantic Hockey Association Tournament. So much so, that the team went to Wilson and Hills with a request before the postseason began.
“They didn’t want us to change their routine,” Hills says. “In past years we had movie nights and other things. But they wanted us to keep their regular season routine consistent throughout the playoffs.”
Both coaches are comfortable with their players’ mindsets. Wilson says the team was excited after clinching its tournament berth Saturday night, and the emotion amplified during Sunday’s NCAA selection show on ESPN2. Since then, however, the Tigers have been focused on the task ahead.
“We like the mindset of our players right now. They’re not overly excited and they’re not nervous or scared,” Wilson says. “We don’t feel like we have to pump them up or bring them down. They’re ready.”