Team of the Week: Quinnipiac
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Many across the country may not have taken notice of Quinnipiac's Bryan Leitch, unless it was for his familiar-sounding name. But Leitch and his teammates are attempting to change that.
You may not know, for example, that Leitch leads the nation in points. Made all the more impressive considering the team's bizarre early-season stretch of getting shut out in three straight games.
"We get asked about that a lot," Leitch said. "Believe me, I don't think I've ever gone three games in a row getting shut out as a team. That was ridiculous. The puck just wasn't going our way. We definitely reaped the rewards against Dartmouth ... we couldn't score against Princeton, and against Dartmouth, pucks were hitting me in the leg, hitting guys in the butts and going in. So it evens out."
Coming out of it as they did, going on scoring rampage, and eventually onto their recent winning streak, made the Bobcats relax, knowing that last year's disappointing finish could finally be put to rest and wouldn't carry over.
"We had good players leave — Ben Nelson and Jamie Bates are both playing pro hockey — so it took us a while to get going, get our new lines going and to know each other," Leitch said. "But now it's [good], especially with David Marshall (on Leitch's right wing). We've been playing with two centers, Brandon Wong right now and Eric Lampe before that. We're seeing what works."
Leitch currently leads the NCAA in points (31), points per game (1.72), assists (23) and assists per game (1.28). The senior wing has scored eight goals in addition to his 23 assists for 31 points in 18 games played — one point shy of his 2007-08 total in 39 games. Leitch has recorded a point in 11 straight games dating back to Nov. 14.
"It's just [about] working hard in the offseason, and trying to come in and be more of a leader and help the team right away," Leitch said. "In past years, I've deferred to other guys and been more of a passer. This year, I still have my assists, but I also have my fair share of goals."
Leitch is doing it for a Quinnipiac team that has won nine of its last 11, with the only two losses coming to first-place and Top 10-ranked Princeton. The first four of those were on the road. The last five consisted of three non-league wins — two against Hockey East teams — a UConn holiday tournament championship, and then the weekend's ECAC wins over Dartmouth and Harvard. All that has pushed Quinnipiac into third place in the ECAC, behind Princeton and Cornell, and into the Top 15 in KRACH.
"Coming back after Christmas, we had a lot more focus," Leitch said.
But the Bobcats know they must avoid last year's fate. Coming off a thrilling Cinderella run to the ECAC championship game in 2007, last year's Bobcats had a 12-2-1 run in midseason, only to lose their last six regular-season games. They bowed out in the ECAC quarters to Harvard in three games.
"We had some injuries at the end of the year, and kind of lost our focus," Leitch said. "Hopefully this year will be different. We got a lot of our tougher games out of the way. ... We still have two big games with Yale coming up pretty quick. ... They're playing really well right now. They've got some great hockey players down there. We have to be ready to play defense."
Quinnipiac players know the teams ahead of them in the standings, and are trying to keep an eye on them while fending off those below.
"We tied Cornell already. Princeton in the last game, we outshot them pretty significantly," Leitch said. "They're both excellent hockey teams, but I don't really think there's a team we can't beat on any given night. They both have the same thing going for them, they're always ready to play. If you're not ready, it's 3-0 on you before the game even starts. They never take games off, which is why they're probably both in the Top 5 (in the Pairwise) right now."
The biggest challenge for Quinnipiac going forward will be goaltending, though the situation has stabilized for now. Coming into the season, Bobcats coach Rand Pecknold recruited two freshmen — Nick Piselini and Dan Clarke to challenge senior Bud Fisher, who had three mediocre seasons for Quinnipiac. To get to another level, and upgrade was needed. That was going great, until Pisellini asked to leave the team, at least temporarily, for personal reasons, thrusting Fisher back into the No. 1 spot. However, Clarke has now emerged as well, with two wins, and is rotating for now with Fisher — making Pecknold look very good for his recruiting class.
So the expectations remain high for the Bobcats.
"We were always expected [in the past] to play good against the ranked teams, play tough — 1-0 losses were OK," Leitch said. "Now we're expected to beat ranked teams. It's a completely different philosophy than when I first got here."