Bobcats Taking Strides
by Brett Gobe/Staff Writer
Once upon a time, Quinnipiac wasn't sure of its hockey future. Desperately wanting to play with the big boys, and with plans made for a sparkling new arena, the team was still in Atlantic Hockey, a noble conference but a step below the others.
Earning admittance into the ECAC was a giant step forward, but as the 2005-06 season came to a close, the Quinnipiac Bobcats were still the new kids on the block. They had pulled off some upsets along the way but had also lost seven conference games by one goal. An 8-13-1 record in the ECAC had left the Bobcats 10th in the league, putting coach Rand Pecknold on the road in the first round at resurgent Rensselaer.
Then it happened. Quinnipiac came out to fast starts both nights and left the Capital District with a first-round sweep.
The Bobcats had arrived.
Pecknold and his staff know they are not under the league radar anymore. After taking Colgate to three games in the league quarterfinals, the Bobcats were the hot team in the playoffs, and despite their defeat at the hands of the Raiders, the Bobcats came out of their first ECAC year strong.
"We want to bring a high level of competitiveness every time we come to the rink," says Pecknold. "Last year we saw how small the margin for error was. In the old league we could get away with some things. Now those mistakes end up in the back of the net."
The Bobcats are still learning, and some mistakes are still leading to goals. Opening the season at North Dakota proved a tough trip for the Bobcats, but Pecknold has used that experience as a teaching tool for his squad.
"We're somewhat happy with where we are right now. We didn't play well at North Dakota, but have played better since then," he said. "North Dakota is a top level team that was very skilled offensively. We had too many defensive lapses, so we preached that we had to improve upon that."
Quinnipiac gave up 10 goals in those first two games. They have given up nine goals in the following four. Five of which came against Union in an 8-5 win in the consolation game of the inaugural Governor's Cup held in the Times Union Center, the home of the ECAC Championship.
"We played well against Union Sunday. Good crowds and a nice atmosphere surrounding the weekend," Pecknold said.
Pecknold himself is part of this process. He had never been with a major Division I program, but coached Quinnipiac for a long time, through a transition from Division III to D-I, then to Atlantic Hockey and beyond. Quinnipiac could have eased Pecknold aside when it went to the ECAC, in search of a coach with a more shiny pedigree, but instead, athletic director Jack MacDonald rewarded him with a new contract this past offseason.
And so here they are. The Bobcats open their ECAC regular season in the Capital Region once again as they face off against Union on Friday.
"There will be some intensity Friday night, not because we play them twice in a row, but because there is going to be intensity in all our games this year," Pecknold said.
This intensity is led by last year's ECAC Rookie of the Year, Bryan Leitch. In 39 games last year Leitch accounted for 45 points or about 12 percent of Quinnipiac's total offense. Linemates Ben Nelson and Jamie Bates also had breakout sophomore season, tallying 38 and 41 points respectively. However Quinnipiac had some trouble putting points on the board with other lines. David Marshall had a solid season but the Bobcats lacked a secondary punch to take opponents' focus off the top line. But another solid recruiting class and two transfers have paid dividends for the Bobcats early in the season.
"That's something we have this year, better depth up front, (Brandon) Wong, (Dan) Travis and (Jean-Marc) Beaudoin up front have provided offense," Peckold said. "I don't really have a second line but a really good checking line. Marshall and Lampe have provided offense as well to take some of the focus off Bates and Leitch."
Pecknold knows, while some things will be easier in some aspects, the rest of the league won't be waiting for the Bobcats the second time around.
"This year will be easier than last year from a coaching standpoint now that we have seen the teams. Even from logistics standpoint, the hotels, the preparation will easier this time around," he said. "From top to bottom, its a very competitive league. The 12th-place can beat the first-place team any night.
"We're going to focus on getting better on the road. Our first four games, against RPI, Union, St. Lawrence and Clarkson, will put us through a test right away. Last year the toughest thing was as a coaching staff we had to prepare for 11 new teams, they had one."
And about that new building? Pecknold said the goal is to get home ice in the playoffs, just for that reason.
"We have a new facility — we want to use it," he said.
The TD Banknorth Sports Center, Quinnipiac's new multi-use sports complex, is slated to open for hockey in January.
"We open up January 28th, against Holy Cross then Harvard and Yale. Three home games in 6 days. We have already sold out the two home events in our old building and students have been attending the events. The Quinnipiac students and community have been getting excited about the new facility."
With a new home and a focused coaching staff, the Bobcats will be looking to challenge the old guards of the ECAC, and maybe surprise a few more teams with another visit to Albany, preferably on St. Patrick's Day.