Last year it was Bemidji State.
This year, it is the Rochester Institute of Technology.
For the second straight year, a team that isn’t from one of the nation’s four established hockey conferences (Hockey East, Central Collegiate Hockey Association, Western Collegiate Hockey Association and Eastern College Athletic Conference) is in the Frozen Four.
RIT is from the Atlantic Hockey Association. Bemidji State was from College Hockey America, which is now defunct.
RIT is the first team from the AHA to reach the Frozen Four, duplicating what Bemidji State did for CHA last season.
The Rochester Institute of Technology has 24 varsity sports for men and women, but 23 are NCAA Division III.
Hockey is its only Division I sport and the program is in just its fifth season in Division I.
They don’t offer athletic scholarships.
Could this happen in any other major sport?
Yes, hockey is a major sport!
No, it couldn’t.
So how could they reach the Frozen Four, beating perennial national contenders Denver (2-1) and New Hampshire (6-2) in doing so?
First of all, you have a coach who knows what it takes to win an NCAA championship.
Wayne Wilson played for Bowling Green’s 1984 NCAA title team and eventually served as an assistant there.
Then you recruit a top-notch goalie (senior Jared DeMichiel) and players with a variety of attributes who are willing to accept their roles for the betterment of the team.
Egos have to be shelved.
RIT and Bemidji State do benefit from the fact they don’t face the grueling league schedules with which the teams in the WCHA, CCHA and Hockey East have to deal.
The ECAC schedule is similar to the AHA and CHA as evidenced by the fact only three ECAC teams have qualified for the Frozen Four over the past 16 seasons.
Hockey East has sent 25 teams to the Frozen Four in that time, the WCHA has sent 19 and the CCHA has had 15.
However, a soft schedule means it is virtually impossible to earn an at-large berth to the NCAA tourney, although Bemidji did so this season thanks to two nonleague wins over Minnesota-Duluth and one apiece over Northern Michigan, Miami, Minnesota, Western Michigan and Nebraska-Omaha.
When you reach the regionals and the games are televised, the TV timeouts are beneficial because your best players get to rest and you can shorten your bench. Your lack of depth isn’t as exposed as it would be in a non-televised game.
The bottom line is the gap is closing and parity is supplying the college hockey world with a wonderful unpredictability.
Boston College will enter its Frozen Four semifinal against Miami having allowed 14 goals in its previous three games.
But BC scored 19 goals.
For Maine’s Black Bears, 7-6 overtime losers to BC in the Hockey East title game, they can now see just how close they are to winning an NCAA title.
It should serve as motivation, especially after BC wins its second title in three years.
Two years of misery should be a distant memory after this year’s unexpected postseason run to the Hockey East title game with a backup goalie in David Wilson, who was pivotal in their success.
If everyone returns, Maine will be picked high in the preseason polls. It will put pressure on them but I don’t see that being a problem.
They were an NCAA-caliber team at the end of this season and have won four HE playoff games the last two years.
An NCAA title would exorcise the demons of the previous failures.