2023 Mercyhurst vs RIT - Men's

RIT Core Returns Motivated With NCAA Tournament In Mind

RIT Core Returns Motivated With NCAA Tournament In Mind

After a runaway 2022-2023 regular season, the RIT Tigers have skated out to a 6-2 start, fueled by senior Carter Wilkie and a balanced returning core.

Nov 10, 2023 by Jacob Messing
RIT Core Returns Motivated With NCAA Tournament In Mind

After a runaway 2022-2023 regular season, the RIT Tigers have skated out to a 6-2 start, fueled by senior Carter Wilkie and a balanced returning core.

“We’re getting contributions from a lot of different people,” head coach Wayne Wilson said on the fast start.

Wilson credited his 2022-2023 all-league players with pulling the weight through the first four games, adding that “that allowed us to get our freshmen involved.”

Through nine games, five freshmen have combined for five goals and 11 points, led by Matthew Wilde’s three goals and five points.

“He’s always been a goal-scorer, so this weekend, he broke out and got three,” Wilson said.

Wilde recorded 81 goals in 104 games across two seasons with the OJHL’s Toronto Jr. Canadiens. His familiarity with his current linemates and fellow freshmen Tyler Fukakusa and Christian Catalano dates back to their time playing together with the Canadiens (2021-2022) when the trio combined for 94 goals and 242 points.

Last season, freshmen accounted for 21 goals and 39 points en route to a 25-13-1 overall record. It was veteran leadership that led the Tigers to an 18-4-4 conference record and a 10-point gap over second place after dethroning AIC, which captured the previous four Atlantic Hockey regular-season titles.

But the Atlantic Hockey Championship was a reminder that nothing is guaranteed, as Holy Cross upset both No. 1 seed RIT and No. 2 AIC on the way to the championship, where the Crusaders lost to Canisius.

Junior Carter Wilkie led RIT in scoring for the third consecutive year, but as the offense heavily flowed through him, his lone goal in the Holy Cross series proved not to be enough.

Freshmen contributions can go a long way in adding depth and unpredictability, though unfamiliarity as the season progresses means a bit more in prolonging that season.

That unfamiliarity displayed itself when Catalano scored the game-winning and series-sweeping goal against Holy Cross last month, with a secondary assist credited to Fukakusa.

The Crusaders’ hosting of the Tigers was their lone series of the 2023-2024 campaign, and while the coaching staff made no mention of revenge or their series loss seven months prior, Wilson acknowledged it likely was in the back of players’ minds.

“We have goals we want to reach; but it’s winning regular season, it’s winning a playoff, it’s going to the NCAA and we didn’t accomplish that,” Wilson said. “It’s kept us grounded and kept us motivated, but when it comes to Holy Cross specifically, we only play them two games this year, and we wanted to win the series.”

Wilson’s team would complete the sweep with a 3-2 overtime win in Game 1, and the 3-2 win sealed by Catalano in Game 2.

While Wilson’s focus remains only on each ensuing game, RIT’s strong program – and his career record of 440-305-78 (.582 Win%), puts 450 career wins in sight.

“I think that’s good,” Wilson said. “I don’t know how many games we actually have left, I want to get all those wins, so whatever that accumulates to. You know, I’ve just been coaching a long time, so I know it sounds like a cliché, but I’ve also got a lot of losses in there, too.”

Wilson humbly acknowledged that much credit for his success should go to longtime assistants Brian Hills and Dave Insalaco, who are in their 19th and 15th seasons at RIT, respectively.

Wilson also credited the leaders of his teams and the leadership groups that have helped cultivate the subsequent leadership group.

“I really do believe that your players are your best leaders,” Wilson added. “That’s who everyone follows is your captains. When the coaches walk out of the room, the conversations can go any which way, and they’re responsible for doing the hard things it takes to win games, so I thank them as well.”

But, after taking over in 1999, Wilson saw the transition of the program to Division I in 2004.

In their Division I history, Wilson has led the Tigers to three NCAA Tournament berths, with a 3-3 record and a Frozen Four appearance in 2010.

His legacy at RIT is solidified, but he’s still not done adding to it.

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Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @Jacob_Messing.