Men’s ice hockey’s identity still being written
On Friday night, the Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey team had its season come to an end at the hands of North Dakota in the first round of the NCAA tournament, falling to the west region’s top-seeded team 4-1.
The entire game, the ESPN broadcast team kept talking about Quinnipiac keeping its “identity” against North Dakota. But what is Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey’s identity? How can a team that has ‘(CT)’ next to its name on the scoreboard to prove it’s from Connecticut have a real identity?
Before trying to answer that question, let’s delve into North Dakota’s identity. The team that will be making its 21st Frozen Four appearance in two weeks at the TD Garden has been a national power out of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association for many years and joined the National Collegiate Hockey Conference last year. They have the second most tournament appearances in the country with 30 and the second-longest streak of tournament appearances, with its 13th being this year.
Currently, there are 13 University of North Dakota alumni on NHL rosters, including Jonathan Toews, T.J. Oshie and Zach Parise. This year’s team has 14 NHL draft picks, including the Schmaltz brothers, Nick and Jordan, who were selected in the first round. The depth on this team creates its identity: it wears out opponents and takes advantage of teams that are not as deep as it is.
Is it fair to compare Quinnipiac, which has been a Division I program for only 16 years, to a historical power like North Dakota? Probably not. North Dakota has made more Frozen Four appearances than the amount of years Quinnipiac has been in Division I.
That may be why it is so hard to discover Quinnipiac’s identity on the ice. The Bobcats haven’t been on college hockey’s biggest stage long enough to develop a reputation.
For the past 21 years, head coach Rand Pecknold has been building up a close to elite college hockey program. From playing at the Division III level to its MAAC and Atlantic Hockey days, and now in ECAC Hockey, Quinnipiac has come a long way.
The foundation of this “identity” that everyone is talking about started in 2012. The Bobcats came onto the national college hockey scene by going 30-8-5, entering the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 seed. The Bobcats made it to their first Frozen Four and eventually lost in the national championship to state-rival Yale, a team that they had beaten three times prior that season.
Despite falling in the championship game, Quinnipiac is now known as a potential national power. The team has made it into three-straight NCAA tournaments. The faces of the identity for Quinnipiac was in the hands of goalie Eric Hartzell, Kellen and Connor Jones and Jordan Samuels-Thomas. With Hartzell between the pipes and the Jones’ twins and Samuels-Thomas scoring the goals, Quinnipiac became a threat to the old-time powers like North Dakota.
After the 2013 Frozen Four, Hartzell left for the AHL and a new face came into net with sophomore Michael Garteig, who played only five games in his freshman year. Garteig had big shoes to fill following a Hobey Baker finalist in Hartzell. Alas, Garteig didn’t disappoint, now being looked at as one of the better goalies in college hockey.
Last year, the Bobcats made it to the national tournament for the second year in a row, though Providence knocked them off in the first round. After that game, the Jones brothers and Samuels-Thomas graduated and left Hamden behind. The identity that coach Pecknold built was gone with a group of new faces wearing Bobcat gold.
Now, Quinnipiac fans are cheering for new names. Garteig continues to shine in the net, sophomore Sam Anas looks to become an even larger threat for college defenses, and another pair of brothers, Tim and Connor Clifton, look to shine on the ice for the Bobcats. These players learned from those before them as well as this year’s small senior class that included Matthew Peca and Dan Federico.
So, to answer the question “What is Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey’s identity?”
Pecknold’s squad has come a long way from being a no-name school, mainly known for its Polling Institute. However, the Bobcats are not near national powerhouses like North Dakota, Boston College and Michigan just yet. Quinnipiac ice hockey is too good to be considered a Cinderella story or an underdog, but also not quite there to a consistent national champion threat. This team is a fairly new program that has blossomed quicker than many other schools have.
It is tough to try and compare Quinnipiac’s identity with another school because it isn’t like any other. Quinnipiac doesn’t have its official identity yet because it’s still being written.Follow @alecturner39