Frozen Four Capsule: Quinnipiac
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
Resume: ECAC Regular-Season Champion, 29-7-5, East Regional Champion
Quinnipiac's run to the Frozen Four hit a snag in the ECAC tournament. The Bobcats dropped a semifinal, 3-0, to Brown, leading to questions about their ability to advance in the NCAA tournament.
For the first 50 minutes of the tournament, QU didn't do much to dispel these concerns. Canisius carried a 3-1 lead late into the opening game of the East Regional in Providence last week. The Bobcats revealed a trait most waited to see, though, calmly overcoming to the deficit with three third-period goals. The following evening, a thorough victory against Union sent the Bobcats to their first Frozen Four.
Matthew Peca, Sophomore, Forward
Peca scored his first goal of the tournament in the third period to spark the Bobcats' three-goal rally. He followed that performance with the fastest hat trick in NCAA tournament history the next night. His three goals in 3:12 in the first period against Union carried the Bobcats to a 5-1 win and on to Pittsburgh.
QU coach Rand Pecknold knew what to expect from Peca when recruiting the gifted winger. The Bobcats' offense has hardly been a one-man — or even one-line — show this season. Peca is, however, their most talented offensive player and a clear talisman for the team — the type of player that changes games. QU needed a spark last Saturday night. Peca provided it and easily could've had four or five goals in Sunday's Regional final.
Eric Hartzell, Senior, Goaltender
Hartzell's remarkable senior season will extend to Friday night at least as a result of his inclusion in the 2013 Hobey Hat Trick. He has been one of the most consistent players in the country this season. Additionally, he's good for an occasional moment of brilliance, like he displayed in the first period of the Regional final win over Union. His save on Max Novak's breakaway kept the game scoreless before Peca and the QU offense took over.
His 1.55 goals-against average and .933 save percentage rank third and eighth, respectively, in the nation. The Bobcats are an aggressive team, relying on a strong forecheck and puck possession as their best offensive and defensive weapons. Naturally, this can lead to quality scoring chances for opponents. Hartzell calmly neutralizes these chances along with making the saves every team needs their netminder to make.
Jordan Samuels-Thomas, Junior, Forward
The Bowling Green transfer's first year on the ice in Hamden, Conn., was a rousing success from an individual standpoint on top of the club advancing to a national semifinal. At 6-foot-2, Samuels-Thomas offers a strong mix of muscle and the skill he displayed with a perfectly placed wrist shot from the face-off circle in QU's 4-3 win over Canisius. He leads the Bobcats in goals with 16.
Skilled players are everywhere in this year's Frozen Four field. Having a player like Samuels-Thomas to create space low and along the walls could provide a differentiating factor for the Bobcats. Goals that win championships aren't always pretty. Samuels-Thomas can generate offensive however Quinnipiac needs him to.
21-game Unbeaten Streak
On Nov. 6, Quinnipiac lost to Atlantic Hockey bottom-dweller American International. The Bobcats responded with a 21-game unbeaten run from Nov. 9 through Feb. 16. Despite losing to St. Lawrence to end their run, QU clinched the ECAC's regular-season championship that night with five league games remaining.
During the run, QU went 3-0-1 against teams from college hockey's power conferences and defeated eventual ECAC tournament champion, Union, twice. The Bobcats allowed more than two goals just once during this stretch and scored at least three 16 times. Since the run ended, QU is 8-4-1. Despite the loss to Brown in the ECAC semifinals, the Bobcats recovered and found their rhythm in time to advance to the Frozen Four.
Third-Period Rally Against Canisius
With 12 minutes remaining in the third period of a Regional semifinal against Canisius, QU trailed Atlantic Hockey's champion, 3-1. Despite the deficit and inspired play from his opponent, Pecknold was confident in his team. Peca's goal at 8:03 of the final regulation period transformed that confidence to certainty. Samuels-Thomas scored at 10:42 to tie the game, 3-3, and senior Kevin Bui leveled the winner at 14:18.
For long stretches this season, QU hadn't faced many challenging moments within games. In the postseason, the Bobcats have overcome a few bits of adversity to advance to this point. They responded to a loss to Cornell in Game 1 of an ECAC quarterfinal series with a 10-0 win in Game 2. It hasn't been a spotless postseason for QU, but it's shown an ability to win games in challenging circumstances, which it will surely face against St. Cloud State Thursday night.
Pecknold Opting to Remain at Quinnipiac
Last summer, Pecknold flirted with the idea of becoming Massachusetts' head coach. After 18 years in Hamden, he seemed certain to leave for Hockey East. However, after contemplating the move, he decided to stay with Quinnipiac. His loyalty to the program that first gave him a chance as a young coach resulted in the best season in program history.
It's been a season of firsts for the Bobcats — their first ECAC regular-season championship, first at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, first NCAA tournament win and first time in the Frozen Four. Pecknold knew his program could reach this point when he chose to stay. He may not have thought it would come right away, but his team quickly became one of college hockey's best.
Players to Watch
Matthew Peca, Sophomore, Forward (15-15—30); Jordan Samuels-Thomas, Junior, Forward (16-11—27); Connor Jones, Junior, Forward (12-14—26); Kellen Jones, Junior, Forward (12-14—26), Jeremy Langlois, Senior, Forward (12-18—30); Mike Dalhuisen, Senior, Defenseman; Eric Hartzell, Senior, Goaltender (29-6-5, 1.55, 9.33)