DeMichiel backstops streaking Tigers
ALBANY, N.Y. -- Fear the streak.
It's a slogan on the back of the gray T-shirts worn by the Rochester Institute of Technology hockey team, but the players insist it has nothing to do with the club's current 12-game winning streak -- which also happens to be the nation's best.
Instead, it has everything to do with the team's unified approach. In the animal world tigers travel in streaks, and in the college hockey world this streak of Tigers is set to travel all the way to Detroit for this week's Frozen Four.
RIT (28-11-1), winner of the East Regional, faces West winner Wisconsin (27-10-4) in the first national semifinal at Ford Field on Thursday (5 p.m. ET, ESPN2 HD). The second semi has Midwest champ Miami facing Northeast winner Boston College (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2 HD).
In this year's group of teams that will play on the final weekend of the college season, there are three brand-name hockey schools that also happen to be No. 1 seeds and then there's, well, RIT -- a No. 4 seed (No. 15 overall) that wasn't expected to have any season left to play.
The one that seemingly doesn't fit in is also the same one that definitely doesn't care whether anyone thinks it belongs.
No, these Tigers are having too much fun to get caught up in the moment -- at least up to this point.
Prior to the East Regional final against New Hampshire, the RIT players (wearing their "streak" T-shirts) went through pregame stretching and warm-up drills underneath the stands at the Times Union Center. And despite the stakes, the mood was anything but quiet resolve.
The outcome was a thoroughly dominating 6-2 win over the Hockey East regular-season champs.
"We are focused on what we have to do," senior goaltender Jared DeMichiel said. "Just because we're having fun doesn't mean we're not thinking about the game. We're loose. We know that it's a game and you can't forget that.
"If you're tight, holding your stick, worried about what's going to happen next, you're not going to play to the best of your ability. If you're having fun and just letting things happen and letting your talent and ability take over, you're going to play at a high level."
Based on the results, DeMichiel must be having a lot of fun.
The Avon, Conn., native, who admitted there was little interest in his services following his junior hockey career, has developed into one of the nation's best backstops in his senior season.
A couple of weeks shy of his 25th birthday, the self-proclaimed Hartford Whalers fanatic ("I live for the Whalers," he says), even though the club left his home state when he was 11 years old, has put up numbers that have gotten him some looks to play at the next level.
For the season, DeMichiel is 27-9-1 with a 1.98 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage. He leads the nation in wins and is fourth in GAA and eighth in save percentage.
The postseason story is even better. DeMichiel is 4-0 with a 1.00 GAA and a .966 save percentage.
And while he certainly lives up to the quirky reputation that's often associated with goaltenders, he is also a team leader off the ice and in the dressing room.
"He probably should be wearing a C," RIT coach Wayne Wilson said. "He is not afraid to speak up. He keeps us loose. He has a great, strong work ethic. He is invaluable right now.
"What you saw [in the East Regional] has been Jared throughout the whole year. He was there when we needed him. He made a lot of things look pretty simple out there. He gives us a lot of confidence as a team. When you are not worried about your back end so much, you can be more aggressive on the other end. He has done that for us. We're very fortunate to have him."
RIT hasn't lost a game since Feb. 6 (5-4 at Sacred Heart) and given the double-digit win streak, it will be interesting to see if the week off between the regionals and the Frozen Four has any effect in slowing down the Tigers' current run.
"We do have some momentum going our way right now, but at the same time it's great to have a week off," DeMichiel said. "It will give us time to heal physically and allow our heads to deflate a little. We need to get back out there and focus.
"We definitely know we've done some good things but the job is far from over."
DeMichiel and the Tigers have a tall task ahead when they face a Wisconsin team that comes in with a nation's best 163 goals and a pair of Hobey Baker finalists in senior forward Blake Geoffrion and junior defenseman Brendan Smith.
There's no mistaking the pressure that comes along with playing in the Frozen Four, but the situation is somewhat different for RIT since no one expected the Tigers to ever take the ice at Ford Field.
"I don't think we really know what we're doing right now," DeMichiel said. "I think it may take a month down the road, or maybe even years down the road, to realize what we're doing right now. We're living for the moment, having fun and just excited to play."
Fear the streak, indeed.
David Albright covers college sports for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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