RIT hockey is starting to receive good press for its 10-game unbeaten streak. College Hockey News is running a piece on RIT’s defense leading the way, while the Democrat and Chronicle will run a feature on Saturday, previewing the game against Niagara. Don’t be fooled by Niagara’s 2-10-2 record (before Friday against Robert Morris). The Purple Eagles have played a very demanding schedule to date, with five games against opponents currently ranked in the top-20 of the USCHO.com poll. Saturday’s game will be an excellent challenge for the Tigers. Also, make sure you get your tickets now, because I am very confident the game will sell out. Also, the No. 4 RIT women’s hockey team has a stiff test this weekend, with two games at defending NCAA Champion, No. 2 Amherst. Friday’s game is the USCHO.com Game of the Week, and can be seen live here.
On Monday, I had the fortune (or misfortune some may think) of heading West on I-90 to see the Buffalo Sabres host the New Jersey Devils in a battle of Eastern Conference powerhouses. My wife Erika, a Devils fan (ugh!) and I (a long-time Sabres fan) had great seats for the game, and both of us were very excited to see the tilt. It was fun to actually watch a game as a fan, not worrying about inputting the stats, or writing a post-game story. The result, for myself, and the Sabres, was anything but positive, as they were shutout, 3-0. I’ve been to around 50 Sabres games, both at the old Memorial Auditorium, and HSBC Arena, and Monday’s performance was the worst I’ve seen in 20 years of going to games. As a pure hockey fan (not using my Sabres bias) I thought the game in general was extremely boring, with the Devils playing their neutral zone, kill the fun of hockey trap to perfection, allowing goaltender Martin Brodeur to record his 103rd career shutout, tying a 40-year old held by the late, great Terry Sawchuk. When the Sabres chose their “Carrubba Collision of the Game” late in regulation, we wondered if there was one, because of the lack of physical play on both sides. More importantly, the HSBC crowd was dead, except for a few scattered boos and mock cheers over the final two periods. This for a Buffalo team that is a point out of first place in the Northeast Division as of this morning.
As I was dodging snowflakes (a precursor to the end of the week) leaving Buffalo and driving back on the thruway, I kept thinking to myself that RIT games have become more exciting than the NHL contests. We had just paid $105 dollars (thankfully well under face value) for two great seats, but witnessed a boring, nationally televised (Versus) NHL game that took two hours and 10 minutes. What an incredible waste of money. Maybe I was a little more cynical because Buffalo lost the game, but looking at NHL box scores over the last few weeks, several, 1-0, 2-0, and 2-1 games have popped up, many more than I like to see. There are several reasons that scoring is down in the NHL this season (great goaltending, overpowering defensive schemes, shoddy officiating, injuries to star players, and most importantly the speed of the game, which has become too fast, if possible). That being said, you can have an exciting 2-1 game, but I haven’t seen many lately.
The college game is gaining momentum in my mind. The game is quick, but not too fast. The level of play is extremely good (watch a Division III game now, and you can see in an instant how much faster the Division I game is) with several NHL caliber players in Division I. The officiating is a mixed bag, but seems to be improving as the year moves on. There is a fair amount of scoring, and a sense of urgency in every game. College players aren’t making three million dollars a year to take a night off, unlike the pros. Ticket prices are very reasonable, and the venues are intimate and loud (Ritter, Air Force, Army are three that come to mind). Going to different arenas, it is great to see how the students get into games with various chants and gestures, some funny, some annoying, but interesting nevertheless. The arenas itself, are a treat to see, with some rich with tradition (St. Lawrence, Cornell, Clarkson to name a few), some with interesting bells and whistles (Minnesota, Air Force), and some that are woefully disappointing (Sacred Heart, Bentley, AIC)
Watching RIT play, especially at Ritter Arena, and everything that was missing from Monday’s game in Buffalo never seem to be lacking here. The physical play is excellent, the crowd is always into the game, RIT averages five goals per game, the goaltending is stellar, and the tempo is usually fast and the action intense.
I always thought the NHL game was much better, but now, I am starting to sway towards the college game.