Quinnipiac's Holiday Present
by Matt Taylor/CHN Reporter
So far this season, Quinnipiac has been the recipient of a lot of presents, even well before Christmas arrived. The Bobcats' 8-4-4 record, including 5-2-3 in the ECAC, has them at the top of the heap in just their second season in the league, and it has them nationally ranked. Captain Reid Cashman has been a rock on the blue line and is again receiving national recognition.
But the Bobcats will also be receiving another big present just after the Christmas season. Starting January 28, with a matchup against old Atlantic Hockey foe Holy Cross, Quinnipiac will have a new home: The TD Banknorth Sports Center.
The Sports Center is a dual facility which will also house the school's basketball teams, albeit in a separate area away from the rink. The capacity is 3,586 for hockey, a 2,500-seat increase over the team's current home at the Northford Ice Pavilion. The facility was built at a cost of $52 million and took nearly two years to build. It also includes a weight room and athletic training room as well as the new administrative offices of the teams.
"We've been talking about the new facility and, I guess, initially I never in my wildest dreams did I think it was going to be of the magnitude of which it's going to be," said Bobcats head coach Rand Pecknold, who is in his 13th season behind the bench at the school. "We were well into planning it when I finally realized that it wasn't going to be just a rink, but one of the best rinks on the East Coast for college hockey, and that's when my excitement level certainly increased."
Quinnipiac Director of Athletics and Recreation Jack McDonald, a get-things-done kind of administrator who was once the head of the Men's Ice Hockey Committee and spearheaded this arena plan, also feels the same.
"We've been talking about a new facility since we announced our intentions to go Division I in 1996," he explained. "We felt that our academics were always there and our programs were good but our facilities weren't quite Division I. So I think the last few years we've been dreaming, hoping, planning, and then designing and building the facility."
As with any new facility, it will take an adjustment period to get used to, but could be used as an invaluable recruiting tool especially for a school looking to make a jump to where it could regularly challenge college hockey's elite, not just on the ice but for some marquee talent as well. Pecknold feels that is has already made an impact on his team this year.
"You look at someone like Brandon Wong, who's one of the better freshmen in college hockey this year, and I think having the rink on its way was one of the main reasons we got him," Pecknold said.
Wong is the team's leading scorer at the holiday break, averaging over a point per game at 12-7—19 and has proven to be a threat as well on special teams, with three power-play goals and a pair shorthanded. Wong is second in the conference in scoring.
"I feel that even though it's going to be a little bit before we can get a recruit in there to watch a game, that the impact is going to be even better, considering that the rink already had a positive influence while it was being built," Pecknold said.
McDonald also hopes the arena will attract a new generation of Bobcats.
"Without question we've had great success in Division I and I think this will only make our teams more competitive and produce quality student-athletes that will bring us to another level of Division I athletics," he said.
The arena should also give students a new level of involvement with the team, including a legitimate feel of home ice advantage where you can fit a large student population into the rink. Previously, the Bobcats only really had that when they played a game last year in Harford.
"When we played our first ECAC game against Harvard, we actually used the Hartford Civic Center and we had over 5,000 people there and took 22 bus loads of students," he said. "I think that's what the students want, is a big-time program and I think this puts us up there."
From a business standpoint, McDonald believes that one visit will not only hook prospective student-athletes, but also every day consumers as well. To do that, he knows you need students and athletes.
"I think anybody's goal initially is to fill the seats and to do that you need to have quality student-athletes, good coaches and need to market well and get the students and alumni involved," he said. "I think our first goal is to have as many fans see the new facility as we possibly can and we know once they come they'll definitely come back."
With a new building and games that will include student-run giveaways the remainder of the season, the sport of college hockey is alive and well in Northern Connecticut.