Minnesota prepares for quaterfinal against RIT

The RIT Tigers are making their NCAA tournament debut on Saturday.

Grant Donald

Just days after the Gophers’ 1-0 loss to Bemidji State in the semifinals of the WCHA tournament, head coach Brad Frost sat his team down and went over each missed scoring opportunity.

There were 21.

“That’s a lot. I’ll take that most nights if we are getting that many chances,” Frost said.

What Frost won’t take is another game where those scoring opportunities don’t yield goals — especially if that game comes on Saturday against Rochester Institute of Technology in the national quarterfinals.

While the likelihood of the nation’s second-best offense getting shut out for a second-consecutive game is low, the Gophers will have to overcome RIT’s style of play, which, according to Frost, is very similar to the style Bemidji put on display in last weekend’s defeat.

“From what we’ve seen, they have a very good goalie, and they like to play lower-scoring games,” Frost said. “They like to limit their opponent’s opportunities and chances and really make you work for it.”

On paper, RIT doesn’t look the part of a team that could challenge the Gophers. After finishing last in its conference during the regular season, the Tigers utilized a little postseason magic to snag College Hockey America’s automatic bid by winning four consecutive games, including a double-overtime upset of Syracuse that brought home the title.

Three years ago, RIT claimed its first national championship — but it was the Division III title. The next year, the team made the jump to Division I.

Though the Tigers (15-18-5) bring a losing record to Ridder Arena, the Gophers know they aren’t the same team their record indicates.

“[RIT’s playing style] is just different from what a lot of teams play, but if they run it well, then it frustrates us,” senior captain Rachael Bona said. “It’s fun to play someone that we don’t know a lot about because they don’t know a lot about us, either.”

With RIT coming into Saturday’s matchup riding its longest winning streak of the season, the Gophers find themselves on the opposite side of the spectrum.

This will be the first time in four years that Minnesota will enter the NCAA tournament with a loss in its last game, something the team is spinning as a beneficial wake-up call.

“I think the [Bemidji loss] came as more of a learning experience. … We need to play a little more desperate from the drop of the puck,” sophomore Dani Cameranesi said. “Obviously, we are not invincible, so knowing that should help us before this game.”

Playing with desperation from the start and putting immediate pressure on the Tigers just might be the Gophers’ key to success.

RIT ranks 28th out of 36 Division I teams in team offense, averaging 1.82 goals a game. If Minnesota is able to get a couple of quick goals in the first period, the Tigers have a short, first-time NCAA tournament appearance.

“Anytime we’ve got a team coming into Ridder Arena for the first time, it’s critical that we get out fast,” Frost said. “I’m expecting a great and lively crowd and our team to come out fast.”