2017-18 was a step backwards for the RIT Tigers, who after back-to-back Atlantic Hockey Playoff Championship victories, found themselves missing the NCAA Tournament. It got worse for RIT who found themselves upset in the first round of the league playoffs by Niagara, ending the Tigers’ season much earlier than fans in Rochester, New York are used to. The Tigers returned 19 players from their 2015-16 squad and were picked to finish 1st by USCHO and 2nd by College Hockey News in preseason league rankings. This year the Tigers will look to bounce back to their normal place in the league standings battling for the top crown.
Looking at the numbers on the surface for last season it appears that RIT had a bit of bad luck leading to their disappointing results. They had just a -3 goal differential yet finished with an overall record of 14-22-1, with all 14 wins coming in conference play. The Tigers struggled with consistency all season, 4 wins was their longest winning streak and that included a sweep over last place Niagara. RIT went 0-4 against eventual tournament champions Air Force, 0-4 against Canisius scoring a total of 3 goals, but split with Robert Morris 2-2 and swept Army. If the Tigers can find consistency again this season and see individual bounce-back performances from some of their leadership this should be a team challenging for a top 4 spot.
2016-17 saw RIT go from scoring 3.03 goals per game in 2015-16 to 2.92 last season. Myles Powell, who scored 15 goals and 32 points in his sophomore season, as a junior last year saw his points total drop to just 24 and the team leader Erik Brown had just 27 points. Needless to say the offense was a huge issue for the Tigers last year, but there is reason to believe it was a hiccup and they can find more output this season. The top 11 scorers from last season are back and the Tigers graduated just 13.8% of their goals scored last season. Powell and Brown will be counted on to lead this team offensively again, however players like freshman Ryan Kruper are primed to make the jump from a seven goal type season to double digits with more college experience under their belt.
As mentioned above for the season RIT had just a -3 goal differential but struggled to compete against the top teams in the conference. The advanced analytics are just as confusing as to why the Tigers were a below .500 team. RIT posted the 7th best Corsi For in the entire nation (55.4%), 5 spots ahead of the next Atlantic Hockey team, Air Force. The Tigers had a middling CF (51.8%) on the power play and slipped below Air Force with a CF-close of 53.9%. This would point to RIT having shots, generating chances, maintaining control of the game but seeing a lack of finish or bad luck. This was the 2nd best power play in conference (15th nationally) converting on 20.53% of their chances. The analytics point to RIT having a pretty rough year for what expected results would be, making them a prime candidate to bounce back offensively this season.
So if the Tigers can bounce back offensively, what will play in their own zone look like? Twins Brady and Chase Norrish are back for the Tigers as captains once again this season and will look to lead the defense corp. Both Chase and Brady experienced season-ending ACL injuries, just weeks apart from each other. Chase played in 23 games, scoring 7 goals and 14 points in that time, while Brady played in 21 games posting 1 goal and 16 points. Having both players back healthy for their senior seasons will be vital to the Tigers’ success. Last season coach Wayne Wilson had to play 4 freshman on the blue line at one point, a hardship last season that could pay dividends this year.
Between the pipes RIT returns just 3.3% of their total saves, as Christian Short played just ninety minutes last season (starting once), and allowed 9 goals in those 90 minutes of play. With the graduation of Mike Rotolo RIT will welcome two freshman goaltenders to campus to join the junior duo of Short and Gavin Lewis. Ian Andriano and Logan Drackett each come to campus after strong seasons with their respective junior teams and it is easy to say that this competition, which will likely decide just how far the Tigers improve, will be wide open.
Player to Watch- Erik Brown saw a 9 goal improvement from his freshman to sophomore season in the same number of games played. This included 5 power play goals on a dangerous unit for the Tigers. Brown will be counted on in important minutes this season to help take pressure off of Myles Powell and if he can make another jump from sophomore to junior season the Tigers could have a special season.
Breakout Player to Watch- Adam Brubacher was pressed into more expanded minutes when the Norrish twins had their injuries on the blue line. Brubacher responded with a 23 point season to lead all defensemen and 6 goals in 37 games. Brubacher, a Toronto native, twice scored double digit goals in his junior career and adds to a deep blue line for the Tigers.
Freshman to Watch- Nicholas Bruce was 4th in points in the entire NAHL last season scoring 67 points in 60 games played with the Johnstown Tomahawks. The 20 year old Nova Scotia native scored 27 goals on the year and was named to the All-East Division NAHL team.