Quinnipiac's Resurgent Stars Could Hold Key to Big Season
by Scott McLaughlin/CHN Writer
With its sweep of Nebraska-Omaha over the weekend, Quinnipiac extended its nation-best unbeaten streak to 12 games. The Bobcats' defense and goaltending have been dominant, as Saturday's 5-4 win is the only game during the streak in which they allowed more than two goals.
But what might be even scarier for opponents is that three of the Bobcats' best forwards never even got going in the first semester.
Connor Jones, Matthew Peca and Kellen Jones — who usually play on the same line — were Quinnipiac's top three scorers last season with 41, 39 and 36 points, respectively. In the first half of this season, however, none of them registered more than six points. Part of that was due to injuries that prevented the trio from ever really getting in sync, as Connor Jones missed six games in late October and early November, while Peca missed three in late November.
"All three of them were a little banged up at times, so that's strike one," said Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold. "And then strike two is they miss some practice time, so they're not as crisp and their conditioning isn't where it needs to be. I still don't think it's there right now. So we need to get that line back in shape and back flowing a little bit. But the production will come up. They can score."
That production started to come up over the weekend. Playing on a line with Jeremy Langlois and Clay Harvey on Saturday, Peca tallied a goal and an assist and was a force in the offensive zone all game. His goal came on an incredible individual effort, as he faked like he was going to pull up and wait for help before turning on the jets, beating a defender to the outside and roofing a shot under the crossbar.
Pecknold put Peca back with the Jones twins on Sunday, and the trio combined for four points. Connor Jones scored what proved to be the game winner when he made a nifty move around a defender and slid a backhander past goalie John Faulkner. Kellen Jones had two assists in the game and Peca had one.
"It's huge," Peca said of the trio's production in the series. "It came in two really important games, which is obviously a good thing. These two wins were huge for the Pairwise and huge just for our morale."
Peca said it wasn't just injuries that caused the line to struggle in the first half. He said they also lacked confidence at times and struggled to score on the power play, something that was a big part of the trio's offensive output last season. Despite the struggles, though, Peca said he thinks they're still doing a lot of things right and that he expects to be better in the second half.
"The chances are there," Peca said. "We're playing the right way. Sometimes it's just bad bounces or the goalie making good saves. And we haven't been playing together consistently because Connor was out and then I was out. But I think we're getting back into the swing of things. The break was good for us, and I think that showed this weekend."
Fortunately for Quinnipiac, other players have stepped up while Peca and the Jones twins have tried to get on track. Senior Jeremy Langlois is having the best season of his career and currently leads the team with 10 goals and 20 points, while classmate Clay Harvey already has a career-high 14 points. Eric Hartzell leads the ECAC with a .935 save percentage, playing behind a stellar defensive corps led by seniors Zack Currie, Loren Barron, Zach Davies and Mike Dalhuisen.
"Langlois has been great for four years. He's always stepped up," Pecknold said. "He and Hartzell have probably been our two best players so far, but it just seems like every game it's someone different. That's the mark of a good team. (Saturday) it was Jordan (Samuels-Thomas) who had three points. (Sunday) other guys played well.
"Earlier in the year we had some struggles in different games or in different periods of a game, and Hartzell was great and allowed us to weather the storm until we could get it going again. It's a fun team to be around. It's a great group of guys, a lot of seniors, a lot of good character in that locker room. That's coming through game in, game out."
If Peca and the Jones brothers get back to scoring the way they did last year, the Bobcats could become an even greater team in the second half.