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Challenging schedule awaits men’s hockey
The well-known saying, “what won’t kill you makes you stronger,” certainly applies to the schedule that this season’s men’s ice hockey team is facing. The Bobcats will tackle several difficult non-conference opponents in the early portion of their schedule and as a result should be well prepared for success against their Atlantic Hockey rivals.
After kicking off the schedule this weekend with the eighth annual Quinnipiac Cup, the Bobcats travel to the mid-west to play a pair of games at the University of Michigan, a perennial national powerhouse. The Wolverines, who have advanced to the NCAA Frozen Four in each of the past three seasons, were picked No. 2 in both the preseason USA Today/American Hockey Magazine and U.S. College Hockey Online NCAA Division I rankings.
“This schedule is a great challenge for the Quinnipiac hockey program,” head coach Rand Pecknold said. “We’ve always tried to schedule the best non-conference teams that we can. This year, we’ve certainly accomplished our goal,” he said.
The following weekend, the Bobcats will battle the University of Wisconsin in back-to-back contests. Although the Badgers suffered their worst season in program history last year, the team will be bolstered this season with one of the best recruiting classes in the nation.
The other non-conference teams appearing on the Bobcats’ schedule are Hockey East’s Merrimack College and Providence College as well as Ohio State University. The Buckeyes have qualified for the NCAA tournament three times in the past six years and are expected to finish in the top half of the highly-competitive Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
“I think it will be a great experience playing the tough non-conference teams this season,” said senior goaltender Justin Eddy of Apple Valley, Minnesota. “It will be a good opportunity for us to see how we stack up against the best in the nation. I think that if we play a simple game and come out of the gate with a lot of confidence we are very capable of winning those games,” he said.
The remaining 24 games on the Bobcats’ 34-game slate will be played within their own conference, which will be entering its inaugural season. Over the summer, the Bobcats joined nine other schools from the former Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Hockey League, the MAAC, to form Atlantic Hockey, one of six Division 1 men’s ice hockey programs in the nation. Atlantic Hockey will maintain the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
As the case has been over the past several seasons in the MAAC, Quinnipiac and Mercyhurst College are expected to duke it out for the top spot in Atlantic Hockey. U.S. Hockey College Online predicted the Bobcats to finish in second-place behind the Lakers, who had won three straight conference titles in the MAAC.
The Bobcats lost only four players to graduation, Dan Ennis, Matt Erhart, Brian Herbert, and Wade Winkler. However, those four players all put up big numbers last season. Ennis, Erhart, and Winkler were far-and-away the team’s top offensive defensemen, while Hebert finished second overall in points with 36.
Despite the loss of those players, the Bobcats still have high hopes for the 2003-04 campaign. Junior forward Matt Craig, of London, Ontario, led the team in points last season with 41 and was selected as the Atlantic Hockey Preseason Player of the Year. The team was also bolstered by the addition of red-shirt senior Mark Hallam, of Medicine Hat, Manitoba, who transferred to Quinnipiac after Iona College dropped its hockey program.
“I think the biggest strength for our team will be our ability to maintain a high level of intensity in the offensive zone,” said Eddy; “we have a number of players who can generate offense and keep the puck in the opponent’s zone for a long period of time.”
In addition to helping the Bobcats’ offensively, Hallam will also provide leadership as the Bobcats’ captain this season. Craig, along with junior defenseman Tom Watkins of Monument, Colorado, will serve as assistant captains.
“(Hallam) has been a leader his whole life, he was captain of his previous team, and I think his work ethic will show that,” Eddy said.
Fans can catch the Bobcats in action this weekend at the Quinnipiac Cup. The Bobcats play American International College on Friday at 7:00 PM. The winner of that game meets the winner of the Bentley/Air Force game in the championship game on Saturday at 7:00 PM. The two teams that lose on Friday will face-off in the consolation game on Saturday at 4:00 PM. All games will be played at the Northford Ice Pavilion.