Peca's Hat Trick Carries QU to Frozen Four
by Jill Saftel/CHN Reporter
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. All season, Quinnipiac's success has come from an effort from the field. No single star up front — the team's top five scorers are separated by just four goals, six total points.
"Championship teams are made like that," junior forward Connor Jones said. "You can't win with one line, you can't win with two lines. You've got to have all four lines, all 16, with the goalie going, too."
But Sunday night, in the East Regional final of the NCAA tournament, it was a record-setting individual performance from Jones' sophomore linemate Matthew Peca that booked the Bobcats their first trip to the Frozen Four in program history with a 5-1 win over Union.
On a roll after scoring in Friday night's 4-3 comeback win over Canisius, Peca single handedly put Quinnipiac up 3-0, all three goals coming within 3:12. It was the fastest hat trick the NCAA tournament had ever seen.
His first came at 9:46 in the first, with the puck bouncing around in front of Union goaltender Troy Grosenick, Peca said he was just lucky to get his stick on it. One minute and 13 seconds later, his second was no accident. Peca got control of the puck on a turnover in the neutral zone, took his time and fired a shot from the circle, catching Grosenick off guard.
On the third, the puck came around the boards and Peca said he tried to keep it in with his knee, but the puck went straight to his stick. He was looking to make a pass, but didn't have any options. He ended up throwing a backhanded shot on the net for the power play goal at 12:58. Just more than three minutes, three goals, and a big lead just like that — not a bad time to get your first multi-goal game. At most, Peca's had two-assist nights this season, but nothing more.
"He's a big time player for us, and he was the best player on the ice tonight," head coach Rand Pecknold said.
"Matthew Peca's a great kid and a great hockey player," senior goaltender Eric Hartzell said. "He works hard every day so he definitely deserves it and it really helped the team win tonight."
Peca was in high demand after playing with the Pembroke Lumber Kings of the CJHL, totaling 47 goals and 72 assists for 117 points in his career there. He led the team to a 51-9-0 record and a national championship in his final season, 2010-11.
"(Peca's) a big-time player," Pecknold said. "That was a huge recruit for us to land. You had everybody on him, and that was a big fish for us to land. He's been great all year. He was great as a freshman. I think the thing with Matthew — and I think the goals are pretty spectacular — he's a complete hockey player. He's a great penalty killer."
Pecknold put in the effort to bring the Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick to Hamden, Conn. He drove to Canada to meet with Peca long-after the program had made its pitch to secure his commitment to Quinnipiac. Peca's linemates, twins Connor and Kellen Jones, probably understand just how much that extra effort has paid off more than anyone.
"It's unreal," Connor said of sharing a line with Peca. "When he's open, you give him the puck. We've played together the last couple years, and we've really meshed. The thing we do, is we skate, we forecheck, we like to move the pace and be leaders for the whole team."
While goals from Jordan Samuels-Thomas and Kellen Jones added to the Bobcat tally for the 5-1 win, it was the leg work Peca did in the game's first 20 minutes that kept a Union team on its heels and booked the Bobcats a trip to Pittsburgh. The one-man show might not be their style, but no one's complaining.
"Peca had a great individual effort. Really, he had those first three goals and he carried us in those first 10 minutes," Connor said. "That's just amazing. It was one of the best single-handed performances I've ever seen. His first goal was unreal, the next two, it was just all him, unassisted goals, pure individual effort. You saw the determination in his face.
"He's good at everything. He's our best penalty killer, he's a complete player. He's an amazing hockey player, keep in mind he's only 20 years old. He's got a bright future for sure."
And it will start April 11 in Pittsburgh, when Quinnipiac faces St. Cloud State, looking to make their own future a lot brighter with a spot in the tournament final.