Morning Jac: No Relief for RIT in Liberty
Jake Coon knew that RIT's move to the Liberty League, which takes place this spring, would be a severe challenge. Sure, the the Empire 8 sent three teams to the tournament in 2011 and the Liberty only qualified one, but Coon, who will be in his third term as head coach, received a taste of his new conference's weekly grind a year before his move.
On a road trip to Clarkson in mid-March, Coon watched the Golden Knights race out to a 5-1 lead after one quarter and still hold a three-goal advantage late in the third.
"They were stomping us," said Coon. "They were beating us by four goals in the first half. We couldn't do anything right and they were just pouring it on. We ended up coming back to win, but it was not an easy contest."
The fact that Clarkson was the fourth-best team in the Liberty League gives RIT a pretty good idea of what to expect in 2012. If that result doesn't make an impact, the Tigers can recall that it took overtime to beat RPI, which was seeded third in the LL conference tourney, at home.
Besides transitioning from one loaded league to another, crafting a workable schedule has been a project. Coon has experience with joining a new league – he was on the staff at UMass when the Minutemen were preparing to switch from the ECAC to the Colonial – so he's familiar with the scheduling obstacles, although not necessarily to this extent.
"At UMass, we switched conferences, but there was some changeover there that made it a little easier. This is a complete overhaul," said Coon. "We had to revamp the whole schedule. The good thing is our non-conference games will be the same teams we've been playing, so that makes it a little bit easier."
It will be easier in terms of filling the schedule, but certainly not in strength. The slate will be brutal, and Coon predicts it will be one of the three stiffest around, featuring Cortland, Geneseo, St. John Fisher, Ithaca, Nazareth and Endicott in addition to the seven league games. RIT couldn't keep many of its long-distance rivals because the Tigers will have to burn a couple of overnight trips during league play.
As if the tough new conference and difficult scheduling wasn't enough, Coon and the Tigers will be entering a new world with some rather important graduation losses. All-American LSM MJ Kiekebelt leaves a massive hole on both ends of the field while goalie Bob Tonnessen, along with Eric Bressler and Kelso Davis on attack, means this RIT edition will have a new feel. The cupboard certainly is not bare, however. AJ Tingle should have an easy transition to one of the attack spots and Coon has a quartet of viable goalies. Kiekebelt will prove more challenging to replace, but there are a stable of LSMs looking for their chance.
"We feel that we'll be okay," said Coon. "We've got a couple of young kids who could step in."
Whether its in the non-conference portion of the schedule or the Liberty slate, those youngsters will grow up in a hurry. RIT's new conference may not have the cachet – or the bids – that the Empire 8 has received, but that might be about to change, thanks to the Tigers.
"I personally don't think the Liberty League gets enough respect. I'm hoping that with this move and the success that we've had, we might solidify that respect," said Coon. "I think [the respect] should have been there, it just hasn't been. You look at Union that came up and played Nazareth and took it to them pretty good. I think both leagues are great, and I think the Liberty League is a league to be reckoned with. We'll have our hands full."