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A New Ice Age

Excitement builds as men’s hockey prepares for the move to Division I

Lou Spiotti proudly sports two NCAA hockey championship rings.

The first ring is from 1983, when the men’s hockey team won the Division II title. The second ring is from the 1985 Division III championship. Spiotti, RIT’s director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreation, alternates wearing the silver and gold on a daily basis.

Lou Spiotti, director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreation

The championship rings took on a new level of symbolism on Dec. 15, when RIT announced it was moving its nationally recognized men’s hockey team to Division I. The Tigers are joining the Atlantic Hockey Association, which was created in 2003.

“This was the sum total of a lot of blood, sweat and tears for many people,” said Spiotti, who has been affiliated with RIT sports for 30 years. “All those questions about RIT going Division I, all the rumors, all the articles, and all the years of waiting . . . Every single one of them has been answered,” Spiotti added. “RIT hockey has arrived, RIT has arrived, and Rochester has arrived. We will now be on the map.”

“The top priority for our athletic program is the academic success of our students.”

Albert Simone
RIT president

The Tigers have built a winning tradition since hockey was introduced at RIT in 1962. Besides the two national titles, RIT has appeared in the NCAA Tournament 13 times, including eight Final Four appearances. They have also won nine ECAC West league titles.

“We are adding an institution that has an outstanding tradition in intercollegiate ice hockey,” said Bob DeGregorio, commissioner of the Atlantic Hockey Association. “RIT has one of the stronger programs at the Division III level, it has won a few national championships along the way. RIT will match up with the other members of Atlantic Hockey right away, and that is in no small part due to their history, their tradition, and their commitment to this program.”

RIT President Albert Simone sees the move to Atlantic Hockey with a
lens that primarily focuses on academics.

He is mindful that RIT’s 24 athletic teams have a 3.17 grade point average across the entire program, slightly higher than the entire student body.

“The schools in Atlantic Hockey share our philosophies and values,” said Simone. “They fit our academic profile. We pride ourselves on having student-athletes who put academics first, and so do the schools in Atlantic Hockey. The top priority for our athletic program is the academic success of our students. The second priority of the athletic program is school spirit. Loyalty and tradition, that’s important. The third priority is competitiveness. You like to play and win . . . But that’s priority number three for me.”

The cachet of Division I, outstanding campus facilities and the value of getting an RIT degree will play a major role in recruiting, said Wayne Wilson. head coach for six years. RIT will not be able to offer scholarships because only hockey is moving to Division I. Yet without hesitation, Wilson is confident the Tigers will compete.

“We accept this challenge,” said Wilson. “We do expect to win hockey games. We do expect our players to graduate and be contributing members of society . . . I am confident we can compete in our conference and ultimately win our conference.”

The news is big for sports fans in the Rochester community as well as on campus. Greater Rochester, population 1.2 million, has a strong tradition of minor league sports and hosting professional golf tournaments. But it has had the dubious distinction of being one of the largest metro areas in the United States without either a major league team or a NCAA Division I team.

Now that has all changed. And while the challenges are higher, Spiotti still has room to sport another ring.

“We will provide RIT and Rochester with its first big-time sport,” said Spiotti. “A debt of gratitude goes out to all those who have helped make this happen, including our president and his team, trustees, coaches, Student Government, fans and the many hockey alumni who have contributed to our program.”

Here’s what some people are saying about the move to Division I

Alan Vyverberg ’76 (criminal justice), manager Skating Institute of Rochester. Vyverberg played on the RIT team ’73-’76. He has coached the hockey team at McQuaid Jesuit High School for four years.

“I think the current team can be competitive in Division I. What excites me most is we’re going to see some big-name teams and some great hockey here. It’s fantastic for the community. It’s going to generate a lot of interest in hockey.”

 

Dave Burkholder head coach, Niagara University men’s hockey team. Burkholder played for RIT ’80-’84 and was goalie of the ’83 national championship team.

“I’m very proud that I played at RIT and
I am very glad that they’re moving up. I know RIT will be able to build a successful team. It’s going to be outstanding for campus life.”

 

Kristine Pierce Brassie ’99 (hotel and resort management), former women’s hockey team captain, All American, winner of the national Hockey Humanitarian award for 1999. Brassie was coach of the Mercyhurst College women’s hockey team when it transitioned from Division III to Division I. She and her husband, David Brassie ’86 (business administration), live in the Rochester area and are expecting their third child.

“I am totally psyched about this – I love collegiate sports. I know Coach Wayne Wilson and I believe he has the
determination to make the transition.”

Blaise McDonald head coach, University of Massachusetts-Lowell. A coach for 19 years, McDonald started the hockey program at Niagara University nine years ago and has also coached at Dartmouth and Boston University. He played for RIT ’80-84.

“RIT has a hockey program that is truly worthy of the great school RIT is academically. By my standards, and many would agree, athletics is the front porch of any college. I think there’s a tremendous advantage to the Division I landscape in terms of media coverage and prestige.”


Sheila Sarratore president, RIT Student Government, which played an instrumental role in promoting the move to Division I hockey.

“It’s a point of pride and spirit. I think that this move into D-I hockey will be a great chance for our spirit to build in this community. It will be a lot of fun and a rallying point for the RIT community and for the Rochester community as a whole.”

Division I hockey FAQ

Why is this big news?
Division I is the highest level of competition in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic association). RIT is the first Rochester-area college or university to play at Division I.

What schools comprise Atlantic Hockey?
American International, Bentley College, Canisius College, College of the Holy Cross, Mercyhurst College, Sacred Heart University, University of Connecticut and the U.S. Military Academy. Air Force is under consideration.

When does the move to Division I take effect?
RIT will play a Division I schedule beginning in the 2005-06 season, but will not play a full-league schedule. In 2006-07, the Tigers will play an Atlantic Hockey schedule, but will not be eligible for post-season play. In 2007-08, RIT will be eligible for Atlantic Hockey and NCAA post-season play.

Where will RIT play its home games?
Games will continue to be played in Frank Ritter Arena on campus, which seats 2,100. Atlantic Hockey officials said the arena is already among the best in the league, with attendance above the league average. Meanwhile, discussions are underway to move high-profile games to Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena, with capacity of 12,000. Atlantic Hockey officials toured Blue Cross Arena and have discussed the possibility of future post-season tournaments.

Who has RIT lined up on its schedule for 2005-2006?
The Tigers will play a minimum of 20 Division I opponents next year. As of press time, colleges that have committed to playing RIT include Air Force,Cornell, Clarkson, St. Lawrence, Quinnipiac, Bentley, Niagara, Canisius and Bowling Green.

Will there be upgrades to Ritter Arena?
Many improvements have been made to the arena in the past decade. The ony urgent upgrade for moving to Division I is improving the visitors’ locker room.

What is the financial cost of moving to Division I?
RIT budgeted about $52,000 for hockey this past season. The move to Division I is expected to double the budget with increased costs in personnel, travel and recruiting.

Can RIT hockey be competitive without offering scholarships?
Because only one of RIT’s 24 sports is moving to Division I, the hockey team will not be able to offer scholarships, but Head Coach Wayne Wilson is confident that excellent players will choose RIT. “We offer a product of tremendous value: a degree from RIT, great facilities and the Rochester community as a whole,” he said. He also noted that Holy Cross, which also does not offer scholarships, won Atlantic Hockey last year, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Will RIT move other sports to Division I?
Women’s hockey may move if the appropriate conference can be found. Only four current members of Atlantic Hockey have a women’s ice hockey team. There are no plans to move any of RIT’s 22 other varsity sports to Division I.

What about an RIT football team?
RIT’s football program ended in 1978. While some students and others have pushed for a football team, there are no plans for this. Student Government leaders said the real focus was moving hockey to Division I to increase spirit and tradition.


Bob Finnerty