70 Minutes to Save Its Season
Quinnipiac Wins Regional After Rough Start
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
PROVIDENCE, R.I. At 8 minutes, 2 seconds of Saturday night's East Regional semifinal, Quinnipiac's season changed.
Matthew Peca scored his 12th goal of the season to halve a two-goal deficit against a Canisius team determined to hang around. The previous 52 minutes of hockey reminded QU coach Rand Pecknold of the five weeks prior.
Following a 21-game unbeaten streak that ran from Nov. 9 through Feb. 16, the Bobcats went 2-2-1 to end the regular season. In the ECAC tournament, Cornell took the first of a three-game series before QU recovered to win the final two. The ECAC semifinals resulted in a loss to Brown that cost QU a chance to play for the double in their own league.
Before Peca scored his first goal of the NCAA tournament, it looked like more of the same for the field's top overall seed.
Canisius built a 3-1 lead against QU because of similarly inconsistent play from the Bobcats on Saturday.
When Peca made it 3-2, everything changed. The Bobcats that ascended the Pairwise, earned the tournament's No. 1 overall seed and clinched the ECAC's regular-season title with five games remaining, returned. They were aggressive. They were physical. They were efficient. They scored three goals in the third period to win, 4-3.
"It was nerve-wracking," Peca said. "We were pretty confident that we were going to come back in that game. We were dictating the play pretty well. We were playing our systems. I think that's a big reason why we won. We stick to our gameplan, whether we're down or up."
And now, they're in the Frozen Four.
The Bobcats carried their effort over into Sunday's regional final. QU defeated fellow ECAC foe Union, 5-1, to advance to the program's first Frozen Four. They will play Midwest Regional champion St. Cloud State in the second semifinal on Thursday, April 11 in Pittsburgh.
"Right now, we're flying high," Pecknold said. "We'll enjoy it for maybe a day, and then we've got to get ready for St. Cloud and get focused there. We're not done. We're not just happy to go. We want to win games."
In Atlantic City, N.J., last weekend, the Bobcats came out flat in a loss to Brown. The hockey resembled the game Pecknold frequently saw after the unbeaten run ended. Nothing ever changed, emotionally, for Quinnipiac, though. The Bobcats know how they have to play to win games. They get away from it occasionally, like any other group, but they always find their way back.
"A big reason for the way we've played the last three games was the loss against Brown," Peca said. "It was a huge eye-opener. We learnt from it. It was disappointing, but we came out hard against Yale in the consolation game. We carried it over to this weekend."
It took 50 minutes for the Bobcats to find their way on Saturday night. Peca's goal transformed the weekend for Quinnipiac. At that point, it looked certain to go home. Within seconds, the mindset of the entire bench changed.
"Peca's goal made it 3-2. It was big," Pecknold said. "I honestly, knew when it went 3-2 that we were going to win. I really did. I know it sounds crazy, but I knew we were going to win that hockey game. We needed to get another one. The boys were up. They were ready. They had the energy. It's been one of those seasons. It's a magical year. I'm not going to say it's been perfect, and we get every bounce, but we've gotten a lot of bounces this year. But you deserve them when you work hard."
Sunday night, Peca and his teammates wasted little time taking control of the game. After a back-and-forth start, Peca scored three times in a 3:12 span to grasp the game firmly for his club. The hat trick, the fastest in NCAA tournament history, was more offense than QU goaltender Eric Hartzell needed.
The Hobey Baker finalist also recovered from a tough showing in Atlantic City to guide his club to the Frozen Four. His team's commitment to controlling possession limited opposition chances as it has all season. Still, he responded well to his team's early issues on Saturday, giving it a chance to come back from the late 3-1 deficit. Sunday, Hartzell was perfect until allowing one Union strike in the third period.
In the first period, Hartzell stoned Union's Max Novak, picking the attempt out of the air with his glove after a rare defensive breakdown from his club.
"My big thing tonight in the pregame was, we have to deal with adversity again," Pecknold said. "It's going to come again, which it did on that breakaway. That's not a good sign for us, and Hartzy stepped up for us."
Hartzell stepped up, then Peca stepped up. And Quinnipiac won. Saturday night didn't start too well and neither did Sunday. But the Bobcats know they can recover. Playing 60 perfect minutes is impossible. Effort can be there for a whole game, but it's difficult for every player to execute flawlessly for an entire game. In the East Regional, 120 minutes were going to decided the fate of QU's season. The first 50 weren't great. The final 70 sent them to the Frozen Four.