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Rocky Mountain Hockey: From Rochester to Colorado Springs and back Sports

We have reached the final weekend of RIT Athletics for the 2008 calendar year. It will be a nice, refreshing break after Saturday’s final contests. We resume play on January 2, 2009.

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of traveling with the men’s hockey team to Air Force for the third straight year. First of all, let me tell you, that flying with a hockey team is unlike anything you have experienced. Normally, flights are quiet, minus for the engine, some announcements or babies screaming (which I had the misfortune of enduring on Thursday morning from Atlanta to Colorado Springs, but back to the story at hand). With hockey players, it is 26 guys (sans a few that will do nothing but sleep), hooting and hollering and acting like kids at lunchtime. All harmless, but hysterical for some, annoying for others I am sure.

Mind you, I flew separately from the guys on Thursday, going through Atlanta to Colorado Springs while they flew through Chicago to get to Colorado Springs. I had the back seat on both flights Thursday, which has never happened before, and hope to never encounter again. The flight to Atlanta was nondescript, except for the middle-aged guy in front of me who did not stop talking the entire flight to the stranger next to him. Thank god I had my iPod cranked. From Atlanta to Colorado Springs I was next to a mother and two small boys (say 5 and 1). Let’s just say I would never want to fly alone with two small kids. The mother asked me to move, politely, about midway through the three-hour trip. I understood, because she could not get the baby to sleep or sit still without him wailing away. I moved up to an open middle seat one row up and not five minutes later, heard a gagging, puke sound from behind me. Suffice to say, the mother got sick and threw up behind us. Unreal. I was never so happy to have moved.

I landed to snow (and 20 degree weather) in Colorado Springs and waited about 45 minutes for the RIT contingent to arrive. Once we landed, it was off to the hotel to relax. The team got to the hotel at 3:15 MST and had to be back on the bus to practice at Air Force an hour later. I didn’t go and tried to get some sleep, but that didn’t happen. After the team got back from practice around 6:30, we made the quick walk over to an Outback Steakhouse seconds from the hotel for the Thursday night meal. Jeff Siegel, the Director of Hockey Operations sets up the meals in advance, with everyone getting the same thing, so we get in and out right away. This time however, Outback flubbed up and nothing was ready. It took over an hour to get the meal and suffice to say, everyone was giving Siegel a hard time (playfully of course).

After the meal, we went back to the hotel and guys are free to do whatever they want in the hotel before lights out at 11. Some guys play cards, some watch movies, others go online, to each his own.

Friday consisted of breakfast in the hotel, followed by the pregame skate at the rink. Air Force is a place unlike any other, because of the military aspect. Every time our bus came through, it was checked by an Air Force guard. There is always a checkpoint to go through before you hit the arena and it seems like we never arrive at the arena the same way. The campus is enormous and spaced out, but majestic, due to the imposing Rocky Mountains in the background. I have never seen an academic building on campus, because of the layout.

After the morning skate, it was back to the hotel to relax for a few hours before the pregame meal, which normally occurs at 1:30 for a 7:05 game. Pregame meals are always fun because there is some kind of prank or shenanigans played at some point. The food is almost always the same: bread, then salad, followed by pasta and either chicken or meatballs. In Air Force, we always eat at Zio’s, an Italian chain located in the Western part of the United States. Excellent food. Great for the athletes burning carbs on the ice later on, brutal for staff who are not playing in the game and trying not to gain five pounds on the trip.

The guys normally go right back to the hotel after to get a few hours sleep before the bus leaves at 4:45. Once in the arena, guys, attired in workout gear, tape their sticks, get prepared and go through a stretching routine. Some of the guys (6-10) get in a circle with a soccer ball and try to keep the ball in the air at all times, using their feet or head. Mainly, the guys try to stay loose before the game.

The warm-up skate takes place 38 minutes before the start of the game (6:27) and goes until the 23 minute mark (6:42). That is official Atlantic Hockey and NCAA protocol.

Normally, we come out flat at Air Force on Friday’s (travel and mile-high altitude are never easy to adjust to, but this time it is different. Every shift is played with a purpose early on and the commitment to defense against the #10 ranked Falcons (also the highest scoring team in the league) is evident right away. We out-shoot Air Force 8-1 in the opening period, but remain tied. The second period is a bit different, as the Falcons find their legs and start to show why they have not lost at home ice in 11 months (to RIT no less). The inconsistent officiating begins to swing towards the home team and a few times during the period, Head Coach Wayne Wilson is so incensed, it looks like he wants to step out on the ice to get the referees attention. Unfortunately for RIT, Air Force scores late in the second period on a power-play and midway through the third on a rare-defensive lapse by RIT. The Tigers are held off the board in a 2-0 loss.

The guys, disappointed, but encouraged by their strong play against a worthy opponent in a tough place to play, head back to the hotel for one last meal (subs) and rest for their weary bodies. The upcoming 21 hours before Saturday’s game will be a repeat of what just happened, minus the morning skate.

It was a quiet Saturday morning, with breakfast in the hotel, followed by more sleep for many, then a run and stretch session (in sunny, 55-degree weather outside) to get the body loose, followed by a quick video session in the hotel run by the coaches. A few of us managed to read the sports page of The Gazette, Colorado Springs daily newspaper and were quite put off by this column, essentially saying RIT gooned it up on Friday. I don’t know what game the columnist saw, but to say we were goons could not have been further from the truth. RIT out-hit Air Force in their own barn, doesn’t happen too often. Apparently, that makes us a bunch of goons. The guy wanted to take some angle in his column and that’s what he did. Wilson wasn’t too thrilled with the article as well.

As far as the game went, Air Force came out strong, as did we. It was a very good game, with plenty of action and intensity. The Tigers responded by rallying late and pulling out a 3-2 overtime win on Andrew Favot’s goal. It was the highest ranked team the men have defeated in four years of Division I play. Goaltender Jared DeMichiel was sensational in net, stopping a career-best 39 shots on Saturday. He was named the Atlantic Hockey Association Goaltender of the Week.

Suffice to say, the guys were pumped. At the post-game meal at a restaurant right next to the hotel, the guys were in a euphoric mood, laughing and cavorting like a team who had just beat the #10 squad in the country in their own barn. The coaching staff was extremely happy and relieved as well. It would be a quick night of sleep however, as the bus would leave the hotel Sunday morning at 5:30 to catch a 7:30 flight to Chicago en route to Rochester. Losing two hours wouldn’t help.

I fell asleep quickly on the morning flight and slept for a good 90 minutes. Waking up, all I could hear were our guys, some doing homework, some reading and others chirping. Winning puts everyone in a good mood. We had a three-hour layover in Chicago, so the guys grabbed food, got to our gate and relaxed. Some guys formed a few groups to play a few different card games, while others tried to fall asleep on the floor or sprawled out over some chairs to watch football. The constant banter between everyone was evident and nobody, senior, or freshman was spared. One guy kept getting chirped because his headphones looked like a pair from the 80’s. Another, razzed because he was on the phone constantly.

Finally, the return flight for Rochester got off the ground and the guys were giddy to get back home. Tons of laughter ensued on the aircraft. I would have hated to be a passenger with no headphones and was subjected to the constant noise. As we got closer to landing, the wind took over and shook the plane quite a few times. One of the players (a complete novice to flying, I found out soon after) yells out “We’re coming in hot” to the rest of the plane. Our guys started laughing hysterically, while others rolled their eyes and shook their heads in nervous fashion. I overheard a lady sitting near me say “These college kids think their invincible.” Finally the flight landed safely, the guys tried to figure out whose bags would come out first (always a competition, no matter what) and we were home to 14 degree weather, 40-mile per hour winds and snow squalls.

It was great to be back in Rochester, no doubt. A fun weekend, capped off by a big win.

This weekend, the Tigers host upstart Mercyhurst, who is only one the hottest teams in all of Division I, having won six in a row, outscoring their foes 39-14 during that stretch. Mercyhurst is also the third highest scoring team in the nation. RIT is 5-3-1 against Mercyhurst since the 2005 season, going 2-1-1 against the Lakers last season. It should be an exciting weekend, as both teams are tied for second in the conference standings.

Come and out and see the guys in action!!! It’s good to be back home for a weekend.

  1. Mike Saffran
    Dec 10

    Great recount of your weekend experiences, Joe. Here’s perspective from this side of the country: Kudos to WITR’s Ed Trefzger and Chris Lerch on their fantastic radio play-by-play call of Saturday night's thrilling OT victory. RIT men’s hockey fans are truly fortunate to have such a dedicated, professional broadcast team traveling with the Tigers to every game.

  2. John Follaco
    Dec 11

    Joe, thanks for linking to that Colorado Springs column. Interesting to see another town's perspective on the Tigers—even if it is a bit warped. It was also interesting to see how the paper covers its hockey team. Maybe, one day, we'll be lucky enough to see a game story and a column on a big Tigers victory in the Democrat and Chronicle.

  3. Paul Stella
    Dec 11

    Mercyhurst be warned: "We're coming in hot!" I kill me.

  4. Chuck Lamb
    Dec 11

    Joe-great summary as I often wondered what those road trips as like! Real different from my days traveling around New York with my college in a mini bus!! But it's nice to know some of the scenarios are still the same! GO TIGERS!!

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