Quinnipiac is having a season like none other in program history and the Bobcats’ defensive efforts has been an integral part of their success.
The Bobcats are riding a 19-game unbeaten streak heading into a road trip for a pair of ECAC Hockey contests at Colgate and Cornell this weekend. They are ranked No. 2 in the latest USCHO.com top 20 and are in undefeated in league play with a commanding seven-point lead in the standings.
|* — Stats as of Feb. 7, 2013|
A stout defensive corps is a huge factor in why Quinnipiac leads the nation with a .808 (19-3-4) winning percentage. The Bobcats rank second in scoring defense, allowing just 1.58 goals per game and boast a solid penalty kill percentage of 90.1, which ranks third nationally.
With four senior defensemen in the seven-man unit, and one of the best goaltenders in college hockey in senior Eric Hartzell, the Bobcats create an incredible challenge for opposing offensives.
“There are a lot fantastic things about having four senior defensemen,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. “They’ve got a ton of experience and in college hockey counts for a lot of success. They’ve seen it all and are ready to react in certain situations.”
“Our top six D-men have over 600 games played, so that’s a lot of experience,” senior defenseman Zach Davies said. “[Assistant coach] Reid Cashman has helped us a lot and put in new defensive systems and new tools for us to use. It’s really helped our defensive pairs to play well together, utilize each other better and move the puck more effectively out of the zone.”
The Bobcats have allowed more than two goals in a game just once since Nov. 1 — a 5-4 victory against Nebraska-Omaha on Dec. 29.
“If someone is going to get a goal on us it’s usually a hard-working rebound goal or a fluke breakdown, and we don’t have many breakdowns during the games,” senior defenseman Loren Barron said.
When the defense does breakdown, Hartzell is there to back them up. Hartzell, a Hobey Baker Award candidate, ranks third in the nation with a 1.46 goals against average and has posted four shutouts on the season.
“There have been a lot of games where he’s bailed us out and we’ve given up some chances … having him back there has been a huge help for us,” Davies said.
“He’s been excellent. We have a pretty good chunk of great players who are having excellent years, and Hartzell has been our best,” Pecknold said. “Whenever we struggle, he’s there to bail us out.”
Pecknold and the coaching staff even have the forwards buying into the concept of team defense.
“That might be the biggest piece of the puzzle because it is hard to get forwards to want to play defense and be defensive hockey players,” Pecknold said. “For the most part, they’ve never really put a lot of thought into before getting to the college level. Our guys have made the defense’s lives a lot easier when they come back hard and create back pressure allowing the defense to make defensive plays.”
Quinnipiac also takes the team approach to offense as well. Ten players have contributed 10 or more points, and while senior forward Jeremy Langlois leads the squad with 11 goals and 14 assists for 25 points, he is the lone Bobcat to rank in the top 100 in the nation (39th with 1.00 per game).
“Usually there are just one or two guys who scores on each team, and on our team we have everyone contributing,” Barron said. “I think that has really sparked our streak because we don’t have one player we depend on to score.”
The unbeaten streak began after the Bobcats started the season with an unimpressive 3-3-1 mark. They had just been crushed by Colgate 5-1 and then stunned by American International 2-1 when they started to come around.
“We thought we were a little better than we were, and [Colgate] handed us to it pretty good,” Barron said. “When we lost to American International, it was definitely a turning point for our team. We thought we should have won that game. We didn’t follow any of our systems or play as a team … we were playing as individuals against American International.”
The following weekend, Quinnipiac avenged the Colgate loss, surviving a 3-2 overtime contest to begin ECAC Hockey play, and then downed Cornell, 4-1, the next night. Since their bump in the road, the Bobcats have posted a 16-0-3 record -– the nation’s longest unbeaten streak.
Pecknold has produced successful teams during his 19 seasons at the helm of the program, but this year’s edition seems to have been able to sustain the momentum during a greater part of the season against the best competition, and owns a 9-0-0 mark against ranked teams.
“We’ve never sustained this level of consistency as a top-10 -– there’s no question,” Pecknold said. “We’ve been good for a long time. This is our 15th year in Division I and we’ve never had a losing season and in that same time frame Michigan is the only other school that can say that. It’s very difficult in college hockey to be good year in and year out, but this [season] is another step for us.”
As the college hockey season makes its’ final stretch through the regular season, Quinnipiac will be looking to keep up the pace as they seek the program’s first ECAC Hockey title. The last time the Bobcats won a conference title was in 2002 when they won the MAAC, and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the only time in program history.
“It’s going to be a grind on the way out, but I’m really proud of our guys and how hard they compete,” Pecknold said.
The Quinnipiac players, of course, are hoping to keep up their winning ways, and let the rest take care of itself.
“Winning is less stressful, and makes everything more fun,” Barron said.
The Bobcats visit Cornell on Friday and Colgate on Saturday. They are 8-0-2 in away games this season.