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April 12, 2013 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Quinnipiac is No Cinderella

Bobcats Earned National Title Game Berth

by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH — St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko rued the first half of the first period of Thursday night's national semifinal against Quinnipiac following the game.

"We'd do anything," he said, "to have the first 10 minutes of the game back."

The Huskies allowed three quick goals to the Bobcats, forcing them to play from well behind for the remaining 50 minutes. They got one back, early in the second. And they had the puck most of the way after that. None of it mattered. They lost, 4-1, Thursday night to Quinnipiac, sending the Bobcats to Saturday's national title game.

Those Bobcats from Hamden, Conn., that no one wanted to believe warranted their spot atop the Pairwise, which they owned for pretty much the entire season.

Those Bobcats that didn't lose from Nov. 9 through Feb. 15.

Those Bobcats that didn't play a good enough schedule and didn't score enough goals and didn't belong in the same conversation with Boston College and Minnesota and Miami and North Dakota and all the other teams that get the benefit of the doubt.

Yea, those Bobcats. The same ones playing for a national championship on Saturday night.

"We can't control what people say about us," Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said. "I've been telling the team that all year. That's one thing we've done a nice job of all year. We control what we control. We stay the course. People can say what they want. Whether it's good or bad, we still need to win games and do what we do. I think we did that (Thursday night)."

They weren't perfect against St. Cloud State. The Huskies saw a little more of the puck than the other 29 teams Quinnipiac dispatched this season. Win No. 30 for QU came after its Hobey Baker finalist goaltender, Eric Hartzell, made 33 saves — a season-high.

Even Hartzell's status as a Hobey Baker finalist was in question for long stretches this season. People — like me — didn't even have him in top the 10 just days before the list of finalists dropped.

Hartzell's 33 saves on Thursday weren't just a collection of easy stops. No, the Huskies, the nation's second-best offense, created chance after chance from grade-A. They strung together perfect passes and wove through the Quinnipiac defense to test Hartzell time and time again. No dice.

Hartzell was nearly perfect on Thursday night, just like his team was for most of the season. He finally solidified himself as the nation's best on the grandest stage this level of hockey can offer. Saturday night, his team gets the same chance.

The Bobcats draw Yale — their rival from about 7 miles up the road from Hamden to New Haven. Quinnipiac is 3-0 against Yale this season, including a 3-0 win in the ECAC third-place game just four weeks ago. The matchup is one of college hockey's great budding rivalries. And it represents a chance for Quinnipiac to stick it to its big brother from up the road with the whole country watching.

Pecknold won't focus much on that, though. His players are just thinking about the hockey game.

"It's a blessing to have this opportunity," QU junior Jordan Samuels-Thomas said. "But, in reality, it's the same game we've played since we were 6 or 7 years old."

They didn't need to hear about underdog stories or disrespect before Thursday's win. It's just hockey, really. The big stage, playing your hated rival in the House that Crosby Built, none of it will matter for Quinnipiac on Saturday night. They just want that trophy — the one they've already proved they deserve the chance to play for.

"The one thing I say about this team is that they don't need gimmicks," Pecknold said. "I haven't used any all year. I've used that stuff in the past. I've done this 19 years. I've used all the tricks in the book. The one thing I learned a couple years ago about with this group is that they don't need gimmicks. It doesn't work with them.

"I don't need to use that stuff. We don't need bulletin board material. We haven't done it all year. They don't need it. In the end, we want to win because we want to win."

Quinnipiac isn't a Cinderella story.

They're not a fluke. They didn't have an easy road to Saturday night's national championship. They don't play in an easy league. And the team you cheer for isn't better than they are.

They're just a damn good hockey team. It's time to accept it.

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