Samuels-Thomas Leads Quinnipiac to Title Game
Transfer, Connecticut-Native Adds 2 Points Against St. Cloud
by A.J. Curry/CHN Reporter
PITTSBURGH If you weren’t sure you’d ever see Quinnipiac and Yale play for the national championship, imagine how Bobcats junior forward Jordan Samuels-Thomas felt two years ago, sitting in his living room at Bowling Green on the heels of yet another season below .500 — a mark the Falcons hadn’t surpassed since 1996.
For Samuels-Thomas, that was without question the lowest of lows. This Saturday, thanks to a scoring a goal and an assist in the first five minutes of Thursday’s semifinal rout of St. Cloud State, he’ll experience the highest of highs – playing in a national title game.
“It’s crazy,” said Samuels-Thomas, who was Bowling Green’s leading scorer during his freshman and sophomore campaigns before deciding to transfer to Quinnipiac, which is located less than an hour from his hometown. “I was talking to (assistant coach Bill) Riga the other day. I remember he called me when I was sitting on my couch at Bowling Green – knowing I was going to transfer. He called me and asked, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m watching the Frozen Four right now.’ He asked me, ‘How badly do you want that?’ Obviously I said, ‘I want it real bad.’
“Little did I know that two years from then, I’d be blessed with this opportunity to go out and do it.”
That opportunity has become a tangible reality thanks to Samuels-Thomas’ determination in the opening minutes of Thursday’s national semifinal win. The junior simply outmuscled the St. Cloud defense on a wrap-around just 1:49 into the game. He picked up an assist on a similar play fewer than three minutes later.
“I wanted to get into my game as quickly as possible,” said Samuels-Thomas, who now has goals in each of Quinnipiac’s three NCAA tournament games. “Especially with the overtime (between Yale and Massachusetts-Lowell) right before us. I wanted to be big and strong around the net and along the walls.”
Big and strong around the net, as it turns out, is Samuels-Thomas’ forte. And he used that to his benefit on Thursday.
“I’m a power forward,” said the 6-foot-4, 190 pound junior, who leads the Bobcats in goals with 17. “I leave the skill stuff to the Jones twins and (Matthew) Peca. I want to just use my body to get the puck and shoot the puck whenever I can.”
St. Cloud coach Bob Motzko knew that the early-game power moves by Samuels-Thomas were the definitive difference in the game, in addition to another steadying performance by Quinnipiac’s Hobey Baker finalist goaltender Eric Hartzell.
“With those two plays at the beginning of the game,” said Motzko, “he was going against one of the best D in the country – he makes great power moves down low on both plays. We weren’t able to battle back with Hartzell in net.”
Prior to arriving at Quinnipiac, Samuels-Thomas was instrumental in Bowling Green’s fleeting success in the 2010-11 season. That year, as a sophomore, he was one of the Falcons’ catalysts in a postseason series win on the road at Northern Michigan.
Still, the decision to transfer to his home state of Quinnipiac was a highly personal one – driven by many factors.
“I was committed there pretty young,” explains Samuels-Thomas. “Before I got there, the two coaches that committed me, they left to pursue other things. They got a whole new set of coaches I didn’t know. Bad year my freshman year for the program. New coaching staff. I understand that stuff takes time, and they had a better year this year.
“But I want to play in the NHL one day, and I felt like I wasn’t getting better as a hockey player there. I needed stability and coaching, and obviously I found that here.”
Then, Samuels-Thomas had to sit out for a season. Clearly, with an NCAA title game fewer than 48 hours away, the wait has been more than worth it – especially for someone who grew up in Connecticut and now will play in the first all-Connecticut national title game in college hockey history.
And the meaning of the moment isn’t lost on Samuels-Thomas.
“I got into hockey watching the Bruins play,” he said. “I was a big Ray Bourque fan growing up. I played in Connecticut until I was 14, 15, until I moved out to the USHL. I never really thought about playing college hockey in Connecticut because – I didn’t really know about Quinnipiac. I didn’t really think of Yale. You don’t really think about hockey – you think about academics. Now, it’s crazy that we’ll be able to play each other. And I’m the only Connecticut kid obviously. These two programs have grown so much and so quickly.”
On Saturday, Samuels-Thomas will anchor the Bobcats’ third line – the “puck possession line” as he calls it – and the approach to the game will likely be the same.
“We don’t want to sit back and play prevent defense,” said the right-winger. “We want to get out and get after it.”
“It,” now, is the national championship trophy. And it’s finally within reach for Samuels-Thomas, whose journey has taken him from Connecticut to Bowling Green, to back home again.
Saturday, he’ll play for that trophy. In person. A long way from that couch in Bowling Green, when the Frozen Four on TV seemed so far away.