Pecknold, Quinnipiac Have Grown Together
But Coach Almost Left After Last Season
by Scott McLaughlin/Senior Writer
PITTSBURGH Although Quinnipiac's roster includes 11 seniors, the program itself is young. The Bobcats jumped to Division I just 15 years ago, and Rand Pecknold has been their head coach for the entire build-up process. He was there when they moved from Atlantic Hockey to the ECAC in 2005. He was there when they moved into the TD Bank Sports Center in 2007. And now he's here in Pittsburgh for their first Frozen Four appearance.
Pecknold almost didn't stay in Hamden for this season, though. He interviewed for the vacant Massachusetts job over the summer, and seriously considered taking it. Even with all the upgrades that have taken place at Quinnipiac, UMass is a much bigger school with a more prominent athletic department. And it put a great offer on the table.
"It was very difficult," Pecknold said of the decision. "UMass is a big-time athletic program. I was very impressed with John McCutcheon, the athletic director. In the end, I had two great opportunities. It was a great problem to have. Ultimately, I just felt there's nothing wrong with being loyal. I love Quinnipiac, and I knew we had this great team coming back. I couldn't go wrong with either decision, but I think I made the right one."
Pecknold knew that as he was making his decision, reports had already begun to surface about his interest in the UMass job. Once he decided to stay, he knew he needed to talk to his players to explain what had happened and to reassure them of his commitment to the program.
Because the reports were coming out so quickly, and because most of the team was away for the summer, he only got the chance to talk to a handful of them before he had to settle for emailing the rest.
"I remember that after I had talked to the first four or so guys, I felt great about my decision," Pecknold said. "I felt just an immense amount of sincerity from those players in how excited they were that I was staying. It was a really good affirmation for me."
Captain Zack Currie was one of the players who talked to Pecknold the day after everything broke. He said he understood that it was an opportunity Pecknold had to consider, but that he was thrilled to hear his coach would be remaining at Quinnipiac.
"It was a weird thing to go through, but I was confident he was going to come back," Currie said. "I talked to him the next day, and it was actually pretty light. He basically just told me that he was staying, that it was over and done with, and that we didn't have to worry about it any more. After that, we just started talking about the season."
Part of the reason Pecknold feels so much loyalty to Quinnipiac is because of the increased resources the university has given him. When president John Lahey hired Jack McDonald to be the new athletic director in 1995, the two decided to put more of an emphasis on athletics, and they identified the hockey program as the one that could become the face of the department.
Then in 2004, the university broke ground on its new arena. Although the TD Bank Sports Center isn't one of the biggest arenas in college hockey, it's state of the art, it's on campus, and it has first-class amenities for players.
"One of the things we really did well is that we built a state-of-the-art arena," Pecknold said. "We might be a smaller school. We're not Michigan or Wisconsin or Notre Dame, but we have a big-time facility. That's not the only thing in recruiting, but it helps."
Specifically, it helped Pecknold land promising recruits like Jeremy Langlois, Kellen and Connor Jones, and Matthew Peca — all key members of this banner season. The rise to this level happened even quicker than Pecknold had anticipated, and that's part of the reason he's convinced it can stay at this level long-term.
The Bobcats have overcome every obstacle in their past, including the challenges that naturally arose when Pecknold took a look at the UMass job. That perseverance and constant improvement has them excited for the future. But for this week, the Bobcats are focused only on the present, where they'll play the biggest game in program history on Thursday.