Quinnipiac, Yale Gear Up For Final Showdown
Rematch of ECAC Third Place Game Once Seemed Improbable
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
PITTSBURGH Twenty days ago, Yale and Quinnipiac played for the third time of the season.
In front of just enough to people to fill a lecture hall at either of the universities, Yale and Quinnipiac played in the ECAC Third-Place Game after disappointing performances in the league's semifinals. With nothing to play for, Quinnipiac came out flat. With everything to play for, Yale did the same.
Each side offered an uninspired performance. QU earned the win, 3-0, over the Bulldogs that day. Quinnipiac was assured the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament no matter its finish in the ECAC tournament. Yale, meanwhile, needed results and some help to lock up a bid. Despite the losses — first to Union then to Quinnipiac — Yale snuck through the backdoor, earning the final at-large bid thanks Notre Dame's win over Michigan in the CCHA championship game.
The win over Yale was the third of the season for Quinnipiac. The rivalry was finished for the year, it seemed. Even with both clubs advancing to the national tournament, the likelihood that a fourth matchup would occur existed almost exclusively on paper.
Well, Yale beat Minnesota, North Dakota and Massachusetts-Lowell. Quinnipiac knocked off Canisius, Union and St. Cloud State. The runs have led to one more showdown between the rivals from just up the road. Quinnipiac and Yale will play for a national championship Saturday night at 7 from the CONSOL Energy Center.
"I think each team's going to be very motivated tomorrow," QU senior Jeremy Langlois said. "I think our record so far against them kind of goes out the window in a game like this. I think, more than anything, just playing a team so many times, you kind of get the feel of what they do well."
Both sides, of course, have said the game is like any other. They just want to play hockey. They want to win a championship.
For Yale, though, something will have to change to earn its first national championship.
Quinnipiac is 4-0-1 in its last five meetings with Yale. In the three games this season, Quinnipiac outscored the Bulldogs, 13-3. Approaching Saturday's game like any other is the obvious approach, but it won't be enough for Yale if it plays out like any other game with the Bobcats.
"There is a reason (Quinnipiac) has been the top-ranked team in the country for most of the year, certainly the whole second half of the year," Yale coach Keith Allain said. "But … I think the details in our game and our individuals have been better than they were the last time we faced them."
Yale has no reason not to be confident. The Bulldogs' first three wins in this tournament showed the nation they aren't the same club that limped out of Atlantic City three weeks ago.
"The Yale team that we're going to face tomorrow night is a completely different team than the one we played earlier in the year," Quinnipiac winger Jordan Samuels-Thomas said. "They're clicking on all cylinders at the right time … So I think our record against them doesn't matter."
Still, they are the same group of people that Quinnipiac has dismantled in each meeting this year. Thursday night against UMass-Lowell, Yale's defensive group tilted the possession battle heavily in its favor. The group, led by senior Gus Young, stymied any transition attempts from UML and quickly gained the puck and sent it back up ice.
Quinnipiac isn't quite the same as UML, but the high-pressure style is enough of a similarity to suggest the Bulldogs can win Saturday's game. Yale coach Keith Allain and his staff haven't pinpointed the singular matchup or trait they look to exploit. They are certain that their team can unseat Quinnipiac with a strong performance.
"I do think there are some similarities between Lowell and Quinnipiac, particularly with the way they defend," Allain said.
They'll need some things to change from their previous meetings with the Bobcats. Yale will focus on its usual quick, efficient puck movement and reliable, patient defensive group. Executing effectively, though, will ultimately decide Saturday's game. Yale hasn't done it against Quinnipiac at any point this season. Allain has about a day to find the spot to exploit.
"We had 10 days to get ready for Lowell, and we've had a day and a half to get ready for our important game on Saturday night," Allain said.
They say they're approaching the game as they do the rest of them. Saturday's mean a little more than the usual mid-February tilt at the Whale or Quinnipiac's Bank, though. Yale needs to bring a little more, as well.