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RIT downs UNH, reaches Frozen Four

3/28/2010

ALBANY, N.Y. -- RIT?

How about RIP, for the remains from the carnage that has been created in the first two days of the 2010 NCAA hockey tournament?

Quick show of hands: Who had the Rochester Institute of Technology advancing to the Frozen Four? A better question might be how many of you knew RIT played Division I hockey?

But the prize of another weekend of hockey was exactly the reward on Saturday night as the No. 4 Tigers (No. 15 overall in a 16-team field) breezed by No. 3 New Hampshire 6-2 to win the East Regional in front of 3,737 at the Times Union Center. RIT became the first Atlantic Hockey Association team to advance to a Frozen Four.

"We're still having fun," RIT coach Wayne Wilson said. "It's a little unbelievable, especially the calmness of the players and the way they go about their work. I don't know if it's because we're the underdog but we don't feel any pressure and we're excited to play the next game and the next game and so on. It's been great."

If you still truly believe in upsets (Yale beat North Dakota with its No. 4 goaltender on Saturday in the Northeast Regional in Worcester, Mass.), then it was the second one in two days for RIT in this building after Friday's 2-1 win over No. 1 Denver sent shockwaves through this year's national tournament.

The aftershock seemed nearly as improbable. Or maybe it wasn't.

"The 30 guys in the dressing room definitely believed it and we expected to win -- and we still expect to win," captain Dan Ringwald said. "A lot of the outsiders maybe didn't give us much of a chance but we just take that in stride and accept it for [what] it is and go play the game the same way."

RIT (28-11-1) is a nice story. The Atlantic Hockey double champions (regular season and conference tourney) came into the NCAAs riding a nation's best 10-game winning streak. But that was against the likes of Army and Canisius and UConn.

This weekend's two-game regional sweep against DU and UNH -- regular-season champs in the big boy WCHA and Hockey East, respectively -- extended that streak to 12 games, but simply isn't supposed to happen.

If a team from New York was going to advance to the Frozen Four, logic would have dictated it to be Cornell. You know, the ECAC tournament champion with the all-world goaltender. As it turned out, the Big Red were the only team that RIT didn't beat this weekend here in the state capital. And here's guessing that Mike Schafer's club wouldn't want anything to do with these Tigers right now.

The self-proclaimed "fun bunch" -- hockey is just a game after all, is what the Tigers will tell you -- carved up UNH (18-14-7) over the final two periods, with the middle 20 minutes being the difference in the game.

RIT took a 1-1 game and made it 4-1 on the strength of an 18-6 shot advantage that produced three goals in 1:34 of play.

Right wing Tyler Brenner scored his first of two goals at 13:23 of the second to give RIT a 2-1 lead. Before the announcement could be made on the assists, the Tigers beat UNH goalie Brian Foster just 13 seconds later when right wing Brent Alexin made it 3-1 with what turned out to be the game-winner. Then left wing Stevan Matic gave RIT a three-goal lead at 14:57, and even though there were still 25 minutes left to play, UNH wouldn't come close to making it game.

"They were aggressive and stayed after it," UNH coach Dick Umile said. "They were quick and a good transition team. It happens fast. Things were going fine and then three goals in two minutes, it's tough. There's a fine line between winning and losing and it goes from 1-1 to 4-1 real quick."

UNH captain Bobby Butler put it much more succinctly: "They did a great job of burying our mistakes."

So impressive were the Tigers this weekend that five of the six players on the East All-Region Team were wearing RIT sweaters. Leading the near sweep was goalie and Most Outstanding Player Jared DeMichiel, who stopped 63 of the 66 shots he faced.

Also joining DeMichiel on the All-Region team were RIT forwards Brenner and Cameron Burt and RIT defensemen Ringwald and Chris Haltigan. UNH's Butler was the only non-RIT player honored for his play this weekend.

Up next for this merry streak of Tigers is the Frozen Four and a national semifinal date with West Regional champ Wisconsin on April 8 at Detroit's Ford Field (5 or 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2). Guess which team will be heavily favored in that game?

"We don't think about the underdog role or David vs. Goliath," DeMichiel said. "We don't care about that, we're just worried about ourselves. We want to give Atlantic Hockey the respect that it deserves and we want to prove to the nation that we can play."

RIT? Yes, and thanks to these Tigers, it also stands for Really Interesting Tournament.

David Albright covers college sports for ESPN.com and can be reached at espncaa@gmail.com.