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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
Cinderella RIT aims to knock off Badgers

Smith: Junior defenseman Brendan Smith and the Badgers are two wins away from their first national title since 2006.

Cinderella RIT aims to knock off Badgers

It is a match up that simply begs for every clichéd underdog reference in the book.

A squad with little history in the sport, from a small tech school that cannot even offer academic scholarships faces off against a perennial superpower that routinely brings in the strongest recruits. The Rochester Institute of Technology

plays the little guy, Wisconsin plays goliath.

This is the setup as the Badgers start their Frozen Four run Thursday against the Tigers from Rochester. Wisconsin sits just two wins away from its seventh national title, and RIT is in the midst of a miracle run in their first postseason trip.

Even UW head coach Mike Eaves sees a bit of this big favorite-longshot angle in play.

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""On their website, the first thing you read is the quote from ‘Hoosiers,' ‘Lets win this one for all the little schools out here [that] never had a chance to get there,'"" Eaves said. ""So I mean, absolutely you're going to play that card... And on the inside you're saying, ‘We're going to fight like dogs.'""

That fight will start on the defensive end, where a Badger attack, deep with scoring options and ranking near the top of the country statistically, will duel with one of the better defenses they have faced this season.

Senior goaltender Jared DeMichiel anchors the Tigers in their own zone, but the players in front of him execute their schemes well, allowing just over 26 shots per game. The end result: 2.03 goals allowed per game, second in the nation.

""They're a very systematic team and they play really well,"" junior defenseman Brendan Smith said. ""They're really good in the defensive zone, and coaches and a lot of us have seen clips of them. They're probably the best defensive team that we will see.""

The game will be played on a rink placed atop the turf of Detroit's Ford Field, an experience somewhat akin to the game Wisconsin played in Camp Randall earlier this year.

With the big setting and importance of the moment, some of the Badgers have admitted they could be feeling some nerves early in the game.

""You're gonna be nervous, that's going to be normal though,"" freshman forward Craig Smith said. ""We're playing on a pretty big stage, but you know it's going to be exciting. I think that after you get the first shift out of the way and get everything going the game will take over.""

Nerves may have played a role in the Badgers' slow start against Vermont in the tournament opener, but RIT will be put in a different spot, trying to retain momentum from wins that came two weeks ago.

They have already fought this far, beginning the tournament as the No. 15 team in a 16-team field and knocking off well-regarded Denver and New Hampshire teams. Five years ago the Tigers were making their Division-I debut.

But the Badgers will not take their foes from New York lightly.

""This team is a good team. They're an older team, they have a lot of Canadians and I know a lot of them and they're great players,"" Smith said. ""I don't think anybody on the team wants to look at them like that, and I don't think we do. The biggest thing is we're just going to not look past them and play them just like any other team.""

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