Staying the course
Quinnipiac looks to maintain even keel heading into final
PITTSBURGH -- Confidence is a good thing for a hockey team to have. The danger comes in overconfidence.
That’s what faces Quinnipiac as it heads into Saturday’s final of the Frozen Four against Yale. The Bobcats have beaten the Bulldogs three times already this season, and beaten them rather handily at that. All time, Quinnipiac is 10-5-2 against Yale.
This is a team that has all kinds of confidence, and it should. A little bit of swagger is to be expected with a squad that’s reached this level, but the real danger lies in overconfidence. That comes when players get it into their heads that they’re going to win, no matter what.
On paper, the national championship might look to some like a done deal. But is Quinnipiac assured of a victory against Yale and the national championship that goes with it? No way. Anything can happen when the two schools meet on the Consol Energy Center ice come Saturday night.
“There’s two ways to look at it,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. “We’re 3-0 against Yale, and some people might say, ‘Well, that’s great for Quinnipiac.’ It’s really tough to beat somebody four times in a row.”
Of course, Pecknold insists, there’s reason to be cautious as the final game approaches. Yale has some momentum after a thrilling overtime victory against Massachusetts-Lowell.
“I watched their Minnesota and North Dakota games and I saw [Yale’s semifinal victory against UMass-Lowell],” Pecknold continued. “This is a different team than when we beat them in Atlantic City [N.J.]. They’ve got some new jam.
“They’re really competing hard. They’re doing some different things with some players who are at a different level than they were three or four weeks ago.”
What, exactly, has caused Yale to evolve so much?
“I guess it’s just their confidence,” Pecknold explained. “Atlantic City weekend, they didn’t seem to have a lot of confidence. They didn’t have their best weekend, but they’ve got some high-end players.
That’s a great first line, and they’re getting some balance from the other lines. [Goalie Jeff] Malcolm’s making saves. I think that’s the key. If you get goaltending, you can win a lot of hockey games.”
Here’s how much Pecknold seems to believe what he’s saying. Quinnipiac and Yale most recently met was in the Eastern College Athletic Conference third-place game on March 23 in Atlantic City, and Quinnipiac won 3-0.
Even so, Pecknold wasn’t exactly head-over-heels thrilled with his team’s performance.
“That 3-0 win in Atlantic City for us, we had nothing to play for, I mean literally nothing,” Pecknold said. “We tried to motivate our guys. We weren’t very good, and [goalie Eric] Hartzell stole the game for us. He was just an absolute stud.
“We won 3-0. We got a couple of goals that were kind of iffy. We probably shouldn’t have won that game. I think you can throw 3-0 out the window. It’s going to be a battle. They’ve got some great players, and we’ve got some great players. We’ll have to perform on Saturday.”
Located just a few miles from each other, the schools have vastly different hockey pedigrees. Yale has field teams since the late 1800s -- it played the first intercollegiate hockey games ever -- while Quinnipiac has been participating in the sport for less than 40 years now.
Quinnipiac’s a small school, sure, going up against one of the best-known universities in the world. The story of Quinnipiac’s rise to hockey prominence is the stuff of Rocky Balboa, Rudy and the Miracle on Ice all rolled into one.
And despite Pecknold’s critique, he’s almost bound to admit that this year’s edition of the Bobcats roster has the most ability of any squad he’s ever coached at the school. That’s what got them here.
“There’s no question I knew this was going to be the best team we ever had from a talent perspective,” he said. “The kids, they definitely buy in. They listen. They do what’s asked. It’s hard to get 20-, 21-, 22-year-old kids to buy in.
“It’s hard in the NHL to get guys to back check, block shots and do little things. Everybody just wants to go score goals. It’s more difficult than you would think, but I knew we were going to be great this year.”
Pecknold knew, as sure he could know at that point in the season, that Quinnipiac was capable of being a top-20 program, possibly top-15 and maybe, just maybe, making it into the top 10.
But Frozen Four? One of the last two teams still standing? Sure, it was a goal that was out there. The bottom line is this: There’s some hockey to be played Saturday night, and it’s not just another game. It’s for the national championship.
Anything can happen.
“Yale? They’re on a run right now,” Pecknold concluded. “Everybody’s talking about the rivalry, us being 3-0 and will it motivate them? It’s a national championship game. I don’t think anybody needs any motivation.
“Both teams are going to be fired up sky-high. It’s all going to be about managing their emotions, controlling and dealing with adversity and trying to minimize the mistakes.”