Bump in the Road
Quinnipiac Looking to Rebound
by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer
Last season, Quinnipiac took the nation by storm, going to the national championship game and running off an impressive unbeaten streak of 21 games.
This season, despite some predictions that its young defense could be its demise, Quinnipiac, with most of its offense intact, started the year 18-3-5 and was playing better than ever. Just a month ago it seemed to be a lock for a number one seed and to play in a regional down the road in Bridgeport.
But the Bobcats ran into a sudden bump in the road, and have lost three straight while going 3-5 in the last eight games. The issue is making sure the bump doesn't turn into a ditch.
"I think the difference has been a little bit of complacency," forward Matt Peca said. "When you are on a roll like that, you kind of forget the little things that allow you to win. There are little work ethic things that we are missing in our game right now but it is better to happen than now than later on in the tournaments. We know how to win, just need to get back to those little things."
There have been key injuries and the usual wear and tear any team faces. Quinnipiac's best finisher, Jordan Samuels-Thomas, has been sidelined for three weeks now with an apparent shoulder injury, and the timetable for his return is unclear. He is a key piece to the Quinnipiac puzzle.
"Losing him has been big blow," Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said. "It causes a trickle down effect. Now all of a sudden we have to take a kid off the fourth line and move him up. Jordan's line isn't as good because he isn't there and now our fourth line isn't as good because we have to move a guy off that line.
"We are already kind of reeling, depth-wise, with the loss of Peter Quenneville to major juniors earlier in the year. We offset that loss but just one more creates problems. We have to find a way though."
Despite the injuries, it still has a boatload of talent that most teams would love to have, including the Jones twins, Kellen and Connor.
"I think what we have had this year and last year is three lines that can score," Pecknold said. "That just creates a whole lot of matchup issues for other teams. Without Jordan we become more of a two-line team, which makes it easier for our opponent to defend us."
The entirety of the season it has shown a difficulty to score goals and finish the plethora of opportunities it gets. In recent weeks this finishing problem has bitten hard.
"We struggle to finish," said Pecknold. "The Cornell game we missed two empty nets, which won't happen often, and against Colgate we had our chances. It is one of those things that sometimes the puck goes in and sometimes it doesn't. We are in a slump where it's not going but we are getting plenty of good looks."
Pecknold continued, "I do think we need to get better traffic in front of the goaltenders. I don't think we have been great with that."
The Bobcats are arguably the best possession team in the country and only a few teams come close to it. It outshoots opponents, on average, by 13 per game while averages 34 shots. In some games that margin is much higher. Shots and attempts are often overrated if a team can't find the back of the net. For Quinnipiac that is the biggest issue and it has been for most of the year.
"We just need to get more bodies in front of the goalies," Peca said. "We tend to get a lot shots but the goalies have an easy job seeing the puck. We need to do a better job of getting in front of them and causing chaos in front of the net."
A lot can be said of mistakes. Quinnipiac's defense is young and mistakes are bound to happen. These mistakes were happening earlier in the year, but someone would get back on defense to bail the mistake out, or Michael Garteig, its goaltender, would make a huge save. This is still happening to some degree but the backup on the other end just isn't happening as much.
Quinnipiac still has a chance to make noise in the tournaments. It should still get a bye in the ECACs. If the NCAA tournament started today it would be the seventh overall seed. It should be in the national tournament, barring a complete collapse in the next few weeks.
The comparisons were being made for much of the season to last year, but this year's team is different. This year, though, it still has the ability to one up last year's team that achieved so much.
"This year's team is probably better offensively than last year's," Pecknold said. "(Freshman) Sam Anas is a big part of that, as he has really helped our power play. Offensively we are a little better but on the defensive side I don't think we are as good. We graduated four senior D and lost Eric Hartzell. We are close but this is definitely a different team. The difference last year was our fourth line was great, it won of us a lot of hockey games. We just don't seem to have the depth that we did."
Regardless of the results in recent weeks, Quinnipiac's success has brought great, positive attention to the ECAC as a whole the last two years. The Bobcats still have lofty goals for this year and no one should doubt its ability.
"If we are confident and we are willing to buy into our team identity, which we have for most of the year, we can beat anybody in the country," said Pecknold. "We have slipped a little bit lately and started to take some shortcuts. We need to stop trying to take those shortcuts and get back to our identity."