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Thursday, April 8, 2010
Wisconsin easily downs RIT

Inside College Hockey

With nothing new developing on the Detroit Red Wings' lease situation at Joe Louis Arena and the possibility of a new rink at least several years away, perhaps the Original Six franchise should look to Ford Field for a temporary solution.

Wisconsin's Derek Stepan had two goals and two assists in Wisconsin's 8-1 win over RIT.
Wisconsin's Derek Stepan had two goals and two assists in Wisconsin's 8-1 win over RIT.

Whether Wisconsin junior Brendan Smith joins the franchise after Saturday's national championship game or after he exhausts his NCAA eligibility next year, Detroit's 2007 first round pick would feel right at home in a non-traditional venue.

Playing his second game of the year on a football field -- the Badgers beat Michigan at Camp Randall Stadium in January -- Smith has stolen the show both times, amassing 7 points on two goals at Camp Randall and five assists against RIT at Ford Field Thursday night.

Smith's five assists in Wisconsin's 8-1 throttling of the Tigers set a Frozen Four record, breaking the previous mark of four that was first set by Minnesota's Tom Vannelli in 1976 and the tied twice by North Dakota's Phil Sykes in 1980 and Lake Superior State's Gerald Tallaire in 1994.

The junior, who wasn't aware he'd broken the record, credited a bit of puck luck and the ability to find just the right spot of open ice to make a pass.

"Coach and I were talking about it, it was kind of funny," Smith said. "It was like that old fable of Midas where everything he touched turned to gold. It was kind of lucky, a lot of them were second assists but I give myself a little credit for being in the right place at the right time."

With Red Wings fans likely salivating over such a prolific offensive blue liner, they can take comfort in knowing that even if he does spend another season in Madison, he's looking forward to a bright future in Detroit.

"Playing in Detroit is so great," Smith said. "It's close to home, I've got family and friends coming. And just playing in front of all of the fans in Detroit, it made me show them what I've got."

Big picture is pretty for RIT

Of course it wasn't the way that RIT wanted to showcase itself at college hockey's biggest event and much of the immediate reaction will suggest that this team didn't belong. Contenders in Atlantic Hockey since they joined the league, RIT lined up with some of the nation's elite and traditional powers. What went right in NCAA East Regional wins over Denver and New Hampshire went all wrong against Wisconsin. But the bigger picture is that the state of RIT hockey is in fantastic shape.

"In the coming days I'll reflect back on it and I'm definitely proud of how far we've come this year, especially starting 0-5 and to see the development of some of the younger guys. This team and the program are something that I'm really proud of and will cherish for the rest of my life," senior defenseman Dan Ringwald said.

John Mitchell
Wisconsin advanced to Saturday's final.

One striking characteristic about RIT is that the team's rapport and camaraderie were top-notch. It was a loose, friendly bunch that knew when to be business-like and always enjoyed the moments. The 2009-10 Tigers were comprised with a special mix of chemistry that you often find on successful teams.

"It's been a great season, plenty of personalities on the team and they all work well together. There isn't one guy on the team who wants to do things on his own," senior captain Stevan Matic said. "We like each other, want to be together and that's what's made it so fun. Some guys are different, some guys are the same and there are no real cliques or anything."

For casual followers of college hockey, it was likely their first look at RIT, but the direction that this program is heading indicated that it won't be the last.

Seen and heard at Ford Field

• When John Mitchell scored to give Wisconsin a 1-0 lead in the first period, it marked the first time RIT had trailed an opponent since Feb. 27, when Canisius bagged the game's first goal in the first period of the Atlantic Hockey regular-season finale for both teams.

• RIT fans traveled in good numbers, seemingly outnumbering Wisconsin fans, and most all were still in their seats through the final moments of the 8-1 blowout, chanting "R-I-T" as a salute to the team as they left the ice. Senior goaltender Jared DeMichiel offered a stick salute to the fans on his way out.

• Following the RIT portion of the postgame press conference, both DeMichiel and Cameron Burt snatched their nameplates from the table as souvenirs.

• There are 28 NHL draft picks scattered among three rosters (RIT has none). Wisconsin has 11, Boston College has 10, and Miami has seven.

Columbus is the leader with four picks playing in the Frozen Four while Anaheim and the New York Rangers have three each. Pittsburgh, Toronto, Nashville, and Dallas have two each and 10 other teams one.

• In the main entryway to Ford Field, the jerseys of every Division I team are on display. Well, 56 of the 58 teams are there. Missing? Providence and Harvard.

• This is probably the first Frozen Four in history offering binocular rentals at booths located all around the Ford Field concourse. This is a football stadium after all.

Plus And Minus

+ RIT stands for Rochester Institute of Technology, but on Thursday it meant Representing in Tigertown. The RIT fans were boisterous from the get-go and continued to make noise even when things went south for the Tigers. Special mention to the trombone player in the RIT band who sported the four-inch orange mohawk with brown tips.

+ The Badger goal barrage wasn't limited to the guys in skates. A Wisconsin fan chosen to participate in an around-the-world style shooting contest during the first intermission -- he had to fire pucks through four corner holes in a tarp covering the net -- did his best Blake Geoffrion impression and ripped a shot through the cutout in the top right corner.

- The way the first semifinal played out didn't help, but Ford Field lacked a certain ambience this afternoon. Is it a beautiful building? No question. But as a hockey venue, it's got the feel of an airplane hangar. Let the record show we reserve the right to change our minds on this one.

- Between television timeouts, a timeout called by RIT, the Badgers' half-dozen goals, and a handful of official reviews, the first part of this afternoon's game dragged on for what seemed like an eternity. It took 70 minutes of real time to play 25 minutes of hockey. That's a pace that even the Red Sox and Yankees would find leisurely.

- Even though North Dakota isn't at the Frozen Four, news of the school's imminent retiring of its Fighting Sioux mascot spread like wildfire throughout Ford Field. While we certainly understand why the nickname has become such a contentious issue, the school and its fans treated the nickname and logo with honor and respect. It's still disappointing to see the proud warrior go to the rafters; to us, North Dakota will always be known as the Fighting Sioux.

INCH's Three Stars Of The Game

3. Aaron Bendickson, Wisconsin: The senior has become an important part of the Badger attack over the last two months. He had a goal and an assist against RIT Thursday, giving him 10 goals and two assists in his last 15 games.

2. Derek Stepan, Wisconsin: Two goals and two assists for the standout sophomore. His deflection of a Ryan McDonagh point shot past RIT goaltender Jared DeMichiel in the first period was a beaut.

1. Brendan Smith, Wisconsin: The defenseman picked up five assists in the rout. Any time you break a Frozen Four record like that, you deserve to be the first star.

What's next

With Thursday's win, the Badgers are in the championship game for the second time in five seasons. Judging from their performance against RIT, they'll be the favorite regardless of whom they play Saturday. Their dismantling of a red-hot Tiger team was impressive.

For RIT, Thursday's loss was a disappointing end to what was a spectacular season. In addition to winning the Atlantic Hockey regular-season and playoff titles, making their first NCAA Tournament appearance, and their first trip to the Frozen Four, the Tigers won a school-record 28 games.

For more on the Frozen Four, check out Inside College Hockey.