Puck Daddy - NHL

This weekend is the NCAA Frozen Four in Detroit. Leading up to this weekend's events, we're chatting with one player from each of the teams involved. Look for interviews through Thursday. Today, it's Jared DeMichiel, goaltender for the Rochester Institute of Technology who take on Wisconsin, Thursday at 5 p.m. ET.

Like Bemidji State a year ago, the Rochester Institute of Technology shook up the field at this year's NCAA hockey tournament.

Opening up against Denver University, the Tigers, led by goalie Jared DeMichiel's 39 saves, upset the top-seeded Pioneers in a 2-1 win. To earn their berth in the Frozen Four, RIT then dispatched the University of New Hampshire 6-2 behind Tyler Brenner's two goals and DeMichiel's 24 saves. His 63 saves in the tournament earned him the NCAA East Region Most Outstanding Player award.

This being the Tigers' first appearance in the NCAA tournament (or any Atlantic Hockey Association team for that matter), DeMichiel said the excitement level around the team and campus was still pretty high three days after their win over UNH to get to the Frozen Four.

Facing the top-ranked Wisconsin Badgers, RIT sees that as just another game against another team and not a David versus Goliath encounter. DeMichiel will be tested by Hobey Baker Award finalist (and Wednesday Puck Daddy interviewee) Blake Geoffrion and his good friend Michael Davies, whom he played with in the North American Hockey League with the Springfield Junior Blues. "I know they're well coached with Coach [Mike] Eaves and they've been a great program for many years. They'll definitely be a tough game as they're highly skilled and highly competitive."

Puck Daddy talked with DeMichiel last week about the growth of the RIT program, his social media presence and his love for the Hartford Whalers.

Q. Take me back to that first game against Denver. How soon did any nerves go away?

DeMICHIEL: I would say as soon as we stepped on the ice and did warm-ups, all the initial nerves were gone. It was no different than really any other game. There are a little bit of nerves, but once we get out on the ice and get our feet moving and take a couple of shots and [get] used to the atmosphere, it's just business as usual.

The team had a rough start to the year, then won seven in a row and now head into the Frozen Four with a 12-game winning streak. Did you make any adjustments early on to your game?

I think I had to make some adjustments mentally. All of us early on needed to a get a better understanding of our roles. This year's team is different than last year's team. Early on, we played well, we did start 0-5, but every one of those games I thought we could have won. I take the blame for most of those losses, but once we got a few wins under our belts and all of us understood our roles, things started to come a little bit easier as we worked harder on the ice.

I asked Matt Read of Bemidji State this question last year when they made their run to the Frozen Four, so I'll ask you since RIT has kind of taken that label: How strong is the feeling around the locker room that "Cinderella label be damned, we can win this thing"?

To be honest with you, we don't really think about being a Cinderella story.

I know some people last weekend said "David vs. Goliath". We honestly don't think about that. We focus on ourselves because we know how each other play and how well we could play. We're excited to get out there and compete and play hard for 60 minutes and we know if we play the best of our abilities, we'll be able to give Wisconsin a game or Denver a game or UNH a game.

You've been with RIT since their early days in Division I. What kind of growth have you seen within the program?

I think there's always been great fan support, but I think that the support now is at an all-time high. I think every single year we get better players as the team has been successful. The coaches do a great job here. Coach [Wayne] Wilson, Coach [Brian] Hills, Coach [Dave] Insalaco ... they work their tail off recruiting guys going all over. At the same time the program has evolved as guys know what it takes to be winners and what it takes to be a top-notch program and we know that we can't take a day off if we want to be a great college hockey team.

For those that don't know much about RIT, what's the student life like?

The fans, faculty and staff have always been extremely supportive of our hockey program, but it's definitely now at an all-time high.

When we returned Saturday night after beating UNH, there was a police escort for our bus and when we showed up there were hundreds of people, student, and alumni waiting there with signs. Even our president came out at two o'clock in the morning. Definitely shows that he's dedicated to our team and to the school. The students have been extremely supportive on campus, just walking around everyone's been very nice and congratulatory towards us and there's not much you can ask for. None of us expected this and we definitely appreciate all their support, it's a great feeling.

You're big into the social media with a blog and being on Twitter, have you seen a gradual rise in followers since the tournament began?

Yeah, for sure. I've always been into Facebook, but Twitter I knew about, but wasn't an early adopter to getting it. I took a class in the winter and the teacher made it mandatory for us to get it, so I got it, opened it and didn't think much about it. Then once we made the Atlantic Hockey playoffs, I started getting emails that people were adding me, so I might as well start using this thing. I think at the beginning of our Atlantic Hockey tournament I had 30 people following me and now I think I have like a hundred or something.

Facebook, after this weekend, I've had like 40 or 50 people adding me and sending me messages. People have been extremely supportive of our program and it's definitely a neat feeling and never thought we'd get this much attention.

Growing up in Connecticut and being a die-hard Whalers fan, how often do you rock the Whale gear around campus?

I have a Whalers hat on right now. I wear it every single day. Growing up, my family were season ticket holders and I can remember sitting on my mom and dad's lap going to games when I was small enough and when we got big enough, we eventually got four seats for my sister and my parents. We used to save all the tickets and have all the gear. I still have Whalers blankets and pillows on my bed in college. I'll love them for life.

Have you ever made up your own lyrics to "Brass Bonanza"?

I've never made up my own lyrics, but it is my ring tone on my phone right now.

Who was your favorite player growing up?

I wouldn't really say I had a favorite. I loved all of them. Jim McKenzie, he was there for a while. We actually got close with him. My sister used to write letters to him wishing him a Happy Birthday and if he had a good game and he used to write back. We met up with him one day at an autograph session and things clicked and we've been family friends with him ever since. His daughter was in my sister's wedding. He was texting me after the game's both nights. He let me skate with him when he was playing in the NHL in the summers. He's been a great friend and a great role model.

Has your fan allegiance transferred to the Carolina Hurricanes or are you still bitter towards Peter Karmanos?

I'm not happy with what Peter Karmanos did, but I understand that's business. My allegiance will always be with the Whalers and that'll never change.

With the recent talk about possible future NHL cities like Winnipeg, Hamilton and Southern Ontario, do you think Hartford could support an NHL team again?

I hope so. Whenever I go back there everyone's wearing Whalers gear. People think it's funny, but most of the people in the Hartford area are still die-hard Whalers fans. I know the city hasn't been the same since the Whalers left and I think it they came back it would shoot some adrenaline into the city. You never know what can happen.

What do you like to do away from the rink?

I love to work out. I'm a little bit of a gym rat. At the same time I love to play other sports. In high school I played soccer, hockey and baseball. I also really love playing golf in the summer. During the season, when I get off the phone with you, I'll probably go play some racquetball with our women's hockey coach and Director of Hockey Operations. It's been a Tuesday ritual for most of the winter and spring. He got me into it. It's a pretty fun sport and not what I expected at first, but it's been fun.

Speaking of rituals, goalies are known to be an eccentric bunch. Do you have any pre-game rituals or gameday superstitions?

No, nothing really. I know it's stereotype that goalies are weirdoes.

I do everything I can to break that stereotype and try to just be one of the boys. I think most of our guys can say that I'm pretty normal. Like every goalie I do have a little bit of a weird side, but I try to be as normal as possible. If anything, I might get dressed left to right. I like to listen to music before games, but I'm pretty easy going. I'm not one of those guys you can't talk to or anything like that.

What song or songs do you listen to before a game to get you pumped up?

I get some DJ Pauly D going or mainly techno music. Some TSO or David Guetta.

So you're beating the beat before the game?

Oh, I'm beating the beat and I'm fist pumping like a champ. Gym, tan, laundry all day long.

Who's the guy in the locker room keeping everyone loose?

I'd probably have to say Cameron Burt. He's always got his mouth going or saying something funny. He's pranked a few of the boys.

What's the best prank he's pulled this year?

Best prank he's pulled was probably on me. He put saran wrap around the toilet bowl and put the seat down. I think he thought I would just go to take a pee and when I went to go sit down, I felt something through the toilet and I'm like, "What the heck is that?" and it was saran wrap.

So luckily I didn't pee all over myself.

Coming up tomorrow, Pittsburgh Penguins' prospect and Boston College defenseman Carl Sneep.

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