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Well, here we go again.
For the second time in as many years, Quinnipiac and Yale will meet in the ECAC Hockey tournament.
As if the rivalry needed another chapter, the Bobcats are set to host the Bulldogs this weekend in the quarterfinal round. The best-of-three series will begin Friday night at the TD Bank Sports Center, with puck drop slated for 7 p.m. Game 2 will take place Saturday and Game 3 Sunday, if necessary. The winner of this weekend’s series will move on to the semifinals in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Still, there is more at stake than just that.
Quinnipiac and Yale met twice in the regular season this year, preceded by four total matchups last year. The Bobcats beat Yale in the first three matchups, including a 3-0 win in the conference consolation game, only to have the Bulldogs down Quinnipiac 4-0 on the biggest stage, the national championship.
“I don’t think I’ll forget that game as long as I live,” senior Zach Tolkinen said. “You get that close, 28 guys get that close, I don’t think there will ever be a day I don’t remember that game.”
Senior assistant captain Connor Jones said that the Bobcats are prepared for any team to come to town, and that the game plan wouldn’t change for Yale. However, he too admitted to being a bit excited when he learned that the opponent would be Yale.
“I think with the way last year ended, we wanted a chance at them,” Jones said.
Quinnipiac is 1-0-1 against Yale this year. The two teams tied 3-3 back on Nov. 9, in front of a sold-out, tumultuous crowd in Hamden.
“At 5 o’clock the kids are waiting outside to get in, that’s what big time college athletics is all about,” Quinnipiac Head Coach Rand Pecknold said after that game. “We’re thrilled that this has become more than a game, it’s an event.”
Yale scored three second-period goals in under four minutes to take a 3-2 lead, only to have Matthew Peca tie things up with 4:54 left in regulation.
“You don’t want to dwell too much on last year, but obviously we had a little chip on our shoulder,” Peca said. “We knew what they did to us. You just use that as extra motivation.”
Quinnipiac then downed Yale 4-0 at Ingalls Rink during the second meeting on Feb. 14. Michael Garteig had 33 saves, turning in his fifth of six shutouts on the year, and Quinnipiac captain Cory Hibbeler had three points in the win.
Hibbeler said the team wasn’t satisfied with the tie back in November, and what had happened in the national championship game was still very much on the minds of many.
“We felt like we owed them one tonight,” Hibbeler said in February.
But things have changed significantly. The Bobcats lost their next three games, and are 1-3-1 since that night in New Haven. Only four of Quinnipiac’s 13 goals in that five-game span came on even strength.
Freshman Sam Anas, who leads the team with 40 points, thinks the struggles are behind them.
“It’s much better to go through it then, than this next month,” Anas said. “We’ve learned a lot in these last couple of weeks, the teams feeling good right now.”
Yale has won three straight and is 5-1-1 since the loss to Quinnipiac. The Bulldogs swept Harvard in the first round last weekend, winning 4-0 Friday night and 2-1 on Saturday.
The Bobcats, coming off a first-round bye last week, are 12-4-2 on home ice thus far this season.
“We knew whatever team we play, we were going to make it hard on them,” Anas said. “We’ve got great fans, they make it a hard place to play and we feed off them.”
Quinnipiac enters play No. 4 in the country in team offense, scoring 3.56 goals per game, and No. 2 in team defense, giving up only 1.92 goals per game.
The Bulldogs aren’t far behind, checking in at No. 12 in the country in scoring, and No. 10 in team defense.
One area to watch might be penalty kill. Quinnipiac leads with country in that category, killing off 91.4 percent of penalties all year long.
“In the end, we want to do what we do well, and that’s stay true to our identity, that’s why we win,” Pecknold said. “In the long run, it’s all about us playing Quinnipiac hockey.”
The Bobcats will be required to play their style against a rather familiar foe. Only this time, the stakes are as high as they’ve been all season long, with a chance to avenge last season’s loss by knocking the Bulldogs out of the NCAA playoff picture. Yale is ranked 18th in the PairWise Rankings and would likely need to win the conference to reach this year’s NCAA Tournament.
“We’re taking this weekend seriously,” Hibbeler said. “From here on out, we’re taking every game seriously, but because it’s Yale, because of what happened at the end of last year, we definitely have something to prove, and that’s the plan.”