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Men’s hockey shooting for top of ECAC
The Quinnipiac men’s hockey team entered its inaugural season in the ECAC last year not knowing exactly what to expect. The Bobcats had to prepare for 11 different teams, only two of which they had played in the previous four seasons.
The end result was a better showing than many had expected. Quinnipiac beat 10 of the teams at least once and won a playoff series on the road. But as the Bobcats prepare to open their second season as members of the ECAC this weekend at North Dakota, they hope that a better familiarity with the league will help them climb the standings.
“Last year, we were at a disadvantage not knowing what teams were capable of, what kind of power plays they ran and not knowing their personnel,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. “I think certainly going into this year we’ve reduced or taken away that disadvantage and that should, I hope, help us this season.”
After being picked to finish last in both the coaches and media preseason polls last season, Quinnipiac jumped to seventh and sixth respectively in the polls this year. All 12 teams in the ECAC make the playoffs, but the top eight earn a home playoff series, with the top four getting a first-round bye.
“Ultimately, we want to get home ice in the playoffs,” said Pecknold, whose team tied for ninth place last year. “I don’t know if it’s realistic for us to be in the top four, so right now we’re going to focus on being a top eight team.”
In late January, the Bobcats will move into their new arena, the TD Banknorth Sports Center. Part of the coaching staff and upperclassmen’s job will be keeping the team focused on the present.
“That’s a long way away for us and we’ll cross that bridge when it comes,” senior captain Reid Cashman said of the new arena. “The league is so tough and our schedule is so tough that if we start looking ahead.we’re going to get in trouble.”
Scoring shouldn’t be an issue for the Bobcats, who finished third in the ECAC in goals scored last season. They’ll return their top seven scorers and add to the mix freshman Brandon Wong, who had 116 points in 60 games in junior hockey last year.
Two areas in which Quinnipiac will be looking to improve are defense and penalty killing. Only Yale allowed more goals and Quinnipiac finished tied for last on the penalty kill.
“We were third in the league in offense and eleventh in defense, so it’s pretty easy to figure out what we need to get better at,” Pecknold said.
Five of Quinnipiac’s six regular defensemen from last year will be back, including Cashman, a unanimous selection to the coaches’ preseason all-league team. One newcomer who could help the Bobcats defensively is junior John Doherty. At 6-foot-4, 235 pounds he adds size to the Bobcats’ blue line. Doherty, a second-round draft pick by Toronto in 2003, joins junior forward Dan Travis as a transfer from the University of New Hampshire.
Both players practiced with the Bobcats last season, but were not allowed to play in any games due to NCAA transfer rules.
In goal, sophomore Bud Fisher will battle for playing time with freshman Zach Kleiman. Last season, Fisher nailed down the starting position early in the season and went on to play in all but five of Quinnipiac’s 39 games.
“I think Bud did a nice job last year, but Zach is a very good goalie and he’s going to challenge him,” Pecknold said. “Ultimately, we’re going to play the best guy and we’ll kind of let it sort itself out.”
Unlike last season, Quinnipiac won’t play any home games at Yale’s Ingalls Rink this year. Until the Bobcats move into the new arena Jan. 28, all of their home games will be played at the Northford Ice Pavilion, where they went 8-1 last season.
“It’s a small rink and it’s not very friendly to visitors, so it’s a huge advantage for us,” Cashman said. “The atmosphere is rocking and our student body is louder because they’re right on top of the ice.”
It’s the kind of atmosphere the Bobcats will face this weekend at North Dakota, which averaged 11,500 fans per game last season.
“It’s a big time college hockey to go there and play in front of 12,000 fans in a hostile environment,” Cashman said. “But it’s only going to help our program. It’s only going to help our young kids get adjusted to college hockey.”