Pecknold Learns from World Championships Experience
Rand Pecknold can vividly recall two games from when he was 13 years old. He remembers watching the United States defeat the Soviet Union and Finland en route to the 1980 Olympic Gold Medal.
It wasn’t just a monumental moment in USA Hockey history. It also defined Pecknold’s passion for the sport that has meant so much to him.
Now, 37 years later, Pecknold finally had the opportunity to represent his country over the past month as an assistant coach on Jeff Blashill’s staff at the recently concluded World Championships.
“It was amazing. It’s a huge honor to coach for USA Hockey,” said Pecknold, who will begin his 24th season as head coach at Quinnipiac this fall.
The opportunity arose last summer thanks to a longstanding friendship with Blashill, the Detroit Red Wings head coach who rose through the ranks as an assistant and head coach in college hockey with Ferris State, Miami and Western Michigan.
Blashill invited Pecknold out to Detroit for an exchange of ideas and coaching philosophies with the Red Wings staff. That meeting led to Blashill hiring Pecknold for the staff he took to the World Championships.
“From a professional development standpoint, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. I was immersed in the hockey world for three weeks. You’re bumping into all these NHL coaches. It was unique and I learned a ton,” Pecknold said.
The experience gave him an even greater appreciation for the rigors of professional hockey and what it takes to be a player at that level.
“You watch them on TV and you see some of [the players] coaching against them in college, but their character level … they were all A-plus character players. They had high compete levels and great work ethics. They were selfless. It bodes well for the future of American hockey,” Pecknold said.
Coaching at the World Championship provided Pecknold with insight into what it takes to be a coach at the NHL level.
“I think I have a much better grasp to what it takes to be a NHL coach. It is different compared to college. The lack of practice time with all those games in a short time, you don’t get all those reps in,” Pecknold said.
“Obviously we were disappointed with the loss to Finland [in the quarterfinals], but it’s a tough tournament. There is a lot of parity. We won six games in a row before that which the U.S. hadn’t done in a long time.”
Pecknold’s coaching ability and track record earned him the opportunity to coach at the international level, but it’s also recognition of the kind of program Quinnipiac has become over the past decade.
“It’s a culmination of the success we’ve had at Quinnipiac. We’ve had a really great run lately,” said Pecknold, who pointed out the importance of having a good staff with him in Hamden. “[Assistant] Bill Riga is one of the best in the business at the recruiting portion. He’s been great. Reid [Cashman] was great and he moved on, but we hit a home run bringing in Joe [Dumais].”
Quinnipiac has done a good job over the years of developing contacts in certain leagues such as the BCHL and capitalizing on that with players who’ve made a huge impact.
“You have to find a niche. You have to have your contacts. The players help you get other great other players. It’s a snowball effect. You don’t want to break that momentum cycle. There’s a lot of momentum in recruiting,” Pecknold said.
While Quinnipiac has enjoyed much of its success without the blue-chip recruits that other schools such as Boston College and North Dakota boast, the program is starting to bring in elite talent.
“We do have a good job of developing guys that other teams don’t want. We have to stay focused on that. We have to compete hard night in and night out. That has to be our trait,” he said.
This past season was a good indication of how far the Quinnipiac program has come. Twenty-three wins was considered a down year due to the Bobcats missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012.
Pecknold is excited about the opportunity to get back to the NCAA Tournament and possibly make a run at the program’s first national championship.
“Our fan base and players thought it was a down year," Pecknold said. "I like the monster that we’ve created. Our players are motivated. We want to get back. Our players have that burn."