The little school that could
Quinnipiac: From DII to just one game away from DI title
PITTSBURGH -- When Rand Pecknold took over as head coach of the Quinnipiac men’s hockey team prior to the 1994-95 season, he couldn’t possibly have imagined making it to the Frozen Four.
Back then, the school was playing at the Division II level and wouldn’t move up for another four years. In those early years, the school maybe got 2,000 applications or so, a number that Pecknold now expects to hit 20,000 this year.
Quinnipiac currently has about 6,200 undergraduate students. Small school? You betcha. Heck, it was just six and a half years ago that the Bobcats got a rink of their own.
Now … now Quinnipiac is headed into the Frozen Four final after trouncing St. Cloud State University 4-1 on Thursday in their semifinal matchup. Riding a wave of momentum is nothing new for the Bobcats this year.
“You could see the stands were full of yellow [Thursday night], which was awesome to see,” said senior defenseman Zack Davies, referring to the Quinnipiac fans' wearing of the team colors. “The buzz on campus the last few weeks has been incredible. You walk around, and everyone wants to talk to you, saying congratulations. Teachers are talking about it in class. People have really rallied behind us this year.”
Up next, Yale, for all the marbles.
The two schools are separated by less than 10 miles, and both are members of the Eastern College Athletic Conference in hockey. Quinnipiac is 10-5-2 all-time against Yale, including winning all three meetings this season. The combined score of the three games was 13-3.
Pecknold calls the reasons behind the success of this year’s squad “a perfect storm.” The team is led by 11 seniors, including standout goalie Eric Hartzell. Certainly, to play at this level, everybody on the roster has had to make a huge jump forward.
And don’t ever count out good ol’ fashioned practice. As in, practice makes perfect. Against St. Cloud State, the Bobcats were very nearly that.
“There are just so many things that have worked in our favor this year,” Pecknold said. “Ultimately, it’s great character and great kids. They come to work every day. Our practice habits are off the charts.
“That’s one thing we talked about in the spring that we needed to be better at. Our practices are excellent. We practice at pace, and when we get into the game, it’s like old hat. We just go right into it.”
Quinnipiac stands ready to show the rest of the world what it can do on a sheet of ice, one-on-one with another hockey team. Only Yale stand in its way.
“I think for this year, we want to prove that we have what it takes to be the best and win that last game,” senior defenseman Zack Currie said. “I don’t think it’s so much that we have something to prove. It’s something we want to prove to ourselves. And if we prove that to everybody else, that’s a bonus.”
Against St. Cloud State, Quinnipiac took control early with three first-period goals and never looked back. Take those few minutes out, and it would’ve been an entirely different game.
“When you bury yourself, it’s going to be difficult to get back,” said a dejected Bob Motzko, St. Cloud State’s head coach. “We want to go back and re-play the first 11 minutes.”
The way Pecknold sounded in his postgame news conference, he might very have agreed that the game would’ve had a far different tone had it not been for the first-period flurry of goals. Of course, he’s a good coach and good coaches are very rarely fully satisfied with the way their players play.
“We’re excited,” he began. “It’s a proud moment for the Quinnipiac University hockey program. I’m just real proud of my guys [Thursday night]. I don’t think it was our best game of the year. I don’t think we played perfect, but we battled and found a way to score some goals.
“We got that nice lead early. We had some struggles defensively, but Hartzell was great again. He was the best player on the ice [Thursday night]. I thought we did a nice job in front of him, but probably could’ve cleaned up a few things.”
Then, Pecknold added one more thought.
We’ve got to get one more.