Doors opened at 4 p.m., but crowds gathered well before that in anticipation of the biggest game in RIT men’s hockey history. More than 2,000 of the RIT faithful cheered on the Tigers at the Gordon Field House.
Among the first to grab the coveted cushy lounge chairs placed just feet in front of the two jumbo television screens was Jessica Lennon, a second-year new media publishing major from Independence, Kan. “I’m here to watch the game and support the team,” she said.
Michael Mendoza, a third-year interpreting major at RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, is from Brookfield, Wisc. Earlier in the week he wore a jacket with “Wisconsin” on it, but there was no sign of that Thursday night in the Field House. “When I wore it, I got a lot of people shouting things at me. I thought it would be dangerous to wear it here tonight,” he said. “I’m supporting both teams really, but I’m not choosing one. I think both teams are deserving.”
Another RIT student from Milwaukee, Amy Umhoefer, a second-year business major, didn’t mind showing her pride for RIT’s Tigers. “Even my dad is cheering RIT at home,” she said.
As the game began, lines were strong for the free pizza and chicken wings offered to the crowd. An order of 5,000 wings and 5,000 slices of pizza were ordered, and consumed before the third period.
As the game started, a sea of orange-clad attendees cheered with shouts, pom-poms and cow bells as RIT players advanced the puck.
Even RITchie, the RIT mascot, wore a T-shirt that read: “I eat badgers for lunch.” He should have had a few of the Wisconsin Badgers for dinner, especially forward John Mitchell who scored the first goal of the game with only 1:27 gone on the clock. The B’s never looked back, but the Tigers never hung their heads.
Neither did their fans.
“They were amazing,” says Courtney Koslof, a second-year fine arts major. “I’ve only been to a few games this year, but wasn’t going to miss this one.”
Scott Weiler, an RIT graduate alum from Pittsford, came to the Field House with his wife, Michelle, and their children Luke, 4, and Katherine, 1, who attended her first RIT hockey game when she was two weeks old. All wore orange clothing. “We’re here to support the team,” Scott Weiler said. “We’re regulars. But it’s tough watching tonight, unfortunately.”
The score soon was Wisconsin, 3, RIT, 0. The crowd was less enthusiastic.
But RIT prevented the shutout with a goal, soon after the televised coverage returned from a commercial. The crowd stood and cheered. Pom-poms were raised in the air and a loud scoring horn blared.
“Do I have good timing or what?” lamented a photographer from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle who briefly snuck away to go to the rest room during RIT’s sole goal.
Despite the Tigers losing their first game in the Frozen Four series 8-1, fans never lost hope and few left the Field House, even as forward Mark Cornacchia left the ice on a major penalty midway in the second period.
“This has been a great ride,” said Sue Provanzano, assistant vice president, Office of the Provost. The spirit shown by the campus, people in the community and alumni around the world was more than had ever been seen before, she added. Her sentiments were echoed by many.
“The game is awesome. I had quite a few “Go RIT” comments today at school,” said Sarah Bangs, a sophomore at West Irondequoit High School who proudly wore an RIT Tigers T-shirt. “A lot of the kids were aware of the Tigers and the big game today.” Sarah is the daughter of Barbara Bangs, director of development for the College of Applied Science and Technology.
Justin Delmonte, a fifth-year microelectronic engineering major from Utica, N.Y., left the Field House with 10 minutes remaining in the game. He had studying to do. “I thought it could have been a good game, but they were overpowered,” he said. “But I’m glad I came.”
“I’m proud of the team and that they made it to the Frozen Four,” said Melinda Beyerlein, a staff assistant for RIT’s Department of Communication.
Even when the Badgers scored more goals in the final minutes of the game, Daniel Evans, a third-year mechanical engineering student originally from Lewisburg, Pa., sat alone in the back row of the Field House and watched the RIT make history. “It was kind of disappointing, but they’re playing a team from a tougher league,” he said. “They’re doing their best. They’re getting some good checks in so I’m glad for that. They’re not playing dumb.”
Taking their place among the giants of college hockey and the name recognition alone will be a continued source of pride for Tiger alumni, said Catherine Bement, associate director of development and alumni relations, CAST development. More than 40 alumni events took place across the country.
The Tigers came into the game with a 12-game winning streak. But, it was the first time RIT played the Badgers, a team that came into the finals with 11 Frozen Four appearances and six titles.
“They had a good run,” said Justin Kruczek, a second-year business major from Brooklyn. “I’m proud of them. Our goalie was good.”
They’ve set the bar high for future RIT hockey teams.
Contributions from Michelle Cometa.