Quinnipiac Faces Critical Series with Nebraska-Omaha
by Bryan Lipiner/CHN Reporter
Leading the ECAC, and currently riding a 10-game unbeaten streak, Quinnipiac hopes to continue its success in a two-game set at home against Nebraska-Omaha, following a 21-day layoff.
The games are as important a pair Quinnipiac has ever played in the regular season.
At the same time, Nebraska-Omaha, fifth in the WCHA, has played to a 3-3 record in its last six contests, splitting three series against Minnesota, St. Cloud State, and Minnesota State.
“We will approach Nebraska-Omaha the same as we approach every other game this year. The series will be key from a Pairwise perspective,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. “It’s always tough after the Holiday break. You never know what to expect after a long layoff.”
As of Dec. 22, the Bobcats are ranked sixth in Pairwise, while Nebraska-Omaha is placed at 18.
Last year, the Bobcats entered the annual set on a five-game unbeaten streak, including a 4-2 win against Massachusetts, and a 3-2 victory vs. Rensselaer in which Quinnipiac notched the game-winner with 2.4 seconds remaining.
Nebraska ended up outscoring Quinnipiac 6-3 in the series, tying the first game 2-2 and taking the second 4-1. Maverick Brent Gwidt recorded three points in the set, two of which were goals. It started a post-Holiday slump that has been somewhat common in recent years.
Yet, this year Quinnipiac leads the ECAC with eight straight conference wins, and has not lost since American International’s 2-1 victory on Nov. 6. This includes wins over programs like Cornell, Providence and Union, and giving up just 11 goals against in the process.
The streak has moved the Bobcats up to No. 9 in the polls, their highest level since Dec. 9, 2009. Senior and captain Zack Currie has played on both teams, and believes this squad is much more experienced.
“The biggest difference between that run we went on (2009) and the one now is that, back then, we had a ton of freshmen in the lineup and we were just riding high on energy and some luck,” Currie said. “This year we are a deep, veteran team that is winning games the right way. It’s a much more stable situation.”
Historically, Quinnipiac has somewhat struggled in the second half of the season. Throughout the past three years, the Bobcats have gone 14-19-10 in January and February, giving this series a heightened sense of importance.
One of the biggest keys to the Bobcats' winning streak has been stellar goaltending by senior Eric Hartzell. November's ECAC Hockey Goalie of the Month has held opponents to a 1.29 goals-against-average, good for second in the NCAA to Niagara’s Carsen Chubak. Furthermore, Hartzell is also second in the NCAA in shutouts with four.
“Eric Hartzell has been very good and our defenseman have played well in front of him,” Pecknold said. “Our team defense has been excellent. We want to be ready to compete and play our style.”
Quinnipiac’s penalty kill is currently the third best in the nation this season, killing off 73-of-77 opportunities for a percentage of 94.8. Meanwhile, Nebraska-Omaha's offense is second in the country with 3.61 goals per game, a true upcoming test for the Quinnipiac defense that has held opponents to just 1.47 goals per game.
“We need to keep our confidence but also realize that every game is as important as the last,” Currie said. “We go into every game knowing that if we play our game we have an excellent chance at winning.”