Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey looks to continue its success in 2016-17

By on October 4, 2016

After a historic season, the Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey team looks to build upon its success in the upcoming 2016-17 season.

Erin Kane | The Quinnipiac Chronicle

An offseason of vast changes saw skilled forwards, experienced defensemen and even coaches move on to endeavors outside of Quinnipiac hockey.

The first of the departed bunch includes a group of forwards that will be missed for their skill above all.

Forwards Sam Anas and Travis St. Denis finished their collegiate careers as members of the 100-point club, following the impressive run to the NCAA Championship Game in April.

After the season, Anas signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, while St. Denis found a one-year deal with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the New York Islanders’ minor league affiliate.

“If you’re going to have success like we had last year, you’re going to lose players,” head coach Rand Pecknold said. “If we stay to our process and our identity, that’s going to take care of itself, which it did last year.”

In addition to the two skilled forwards, Quinnipiac lost some experience cornerstones from last season on both the offensive and defensive sides of things.

Defenseman Devon Toews signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the New York Islanders. He finished his collegiate career with 91 games played, 63 points, plus-29 rating and just 21 penalty minutes before inking a deal with the club that drafted him 108th overall in 2014.

Goaltender Michael Garteig signed a one-year, entry-level contract with the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks after a season that earned him a Hobey Baker Award nomination as NCAA’s top men’s hockey player.

Lastly but surely not least, the Bobcats lose two players that brought huge on-ice, veteran presence to the successful team in defenseman Alex Miner-Barron and now-former captain Soren Jonzzon.

“We lost some great players, but we lose that every year and you just have to deal with it,” Pecknold added. “We don’t talk about rebuilding. We talk about reloading. We need returners, guys that were third or fourth liners to become first or second liners, or second or third line guys to become all-stars in the league. We need that to happen.”

The underlying question remains: who will these players be?

For starters, Quinnipiac welcomed in six new freshmen as a part of the Class of 2020: forwards Alex Whelan, Nick Jermain and Logan Mick, defensemen Karlis Cukste and Brogan Rafferty, and goaltender Andrew Shortridge.

While all may not immediately get the chance to play a consistent part in this season, there is still plenty of time to make an impression on their new staff.

“There’s high expectations for this team and especially for the incoming freshmen,” Rafferty said. “With their success the past four years and especially last year, making it to the championship game, the bar is so high that we can’t do anything about it, but try to mesh and get better.”

Although Whelan was the only freshman forward to see a regular shift in the Bobcats’ first exhibition game, NHL-drafted Karlis Cukste (San Jose Sharks, 130th overall in 2015) looks to be the only sure freshman lock to start the season. Latvian-born Cukste was paired with virtual top six-defenseman Luke Shiplo and showed mature patience on the defensive end of the ice in Friday’s exhibition game against McGill.

However, Rafferty and Shortridge were two freshmen to receive direct praise from their new head coach after Saturday’s win.

“They did a good job; they hung in there,” Pecknold said of his freshmen. “I think Shortridge did a nice job with a shutout in the first and I thought Rafferty was great.”

With Shortridge immediately proving his case in net, the race for the starting job going into Friday’s regular season opener is now in question. Along with Shortridge, juniors Sean Lawrence and transfer from Air Force Academy Chris Truehl are all in the mix. The decision on who to start is one Pecknold will be surely be patient with.

“The three guys are battling it out. They’ve all been good,” Pecknold said. “Sometimes one guy takes the job and runs with it. I’ve had years where a starter got nine of the first 10 [games] then the other guy got 27 in a row…I’m real happy with all three now, but we’ll have to make a decision for Friday night.”

Another pending decision is the Bobcats’ power play unit.

Quinnipiac’s first power play saw three new additions from last year’s top unit: Connor Clifton, K.J. Tiefenwerth and Tanner MacMaster.

“We lost a lot of goals with Sam [Anas], [Travis] St. Denis and [Devon] Toews. They were a big part of that 1-3-1 power play,” senior Connor Clifton said. “Now we have three new guys; Tim [Clifton] and Landon [Smith] are the only returners on the unit, so we’ve been working on it.”

It seems that all Quinnipiac can do to better its special teams is practice before its home opener

Erin Kane | The Quinnipiac Chronicle

against reigning Hockey East Tournament Champions, Northeastern.

“It’s going to take some time to gel with the other [power play] guys and trying to get everything setup,” MacMaster said. “But I think just keep working on it and we’ll be a good unit.”

The effort to perfect a new duty is something first-unit newcomer Connor Clifton is familiar with, after being named co-captain with fellow senior defenseman Derek Smith over the offseason.

“I share [the captaincy] with [Derek Smith] and even everyone; there’s leaders all around,” Connor Clifton said. “Everyone leads in their own way and that’s what makes us so good.”

It isn’t easy for a group of more than 20 to operate in unison in hopes of capturing a similar goal, but it is a recurring environment Pecknold knows his club will continue to thrive in.

“We’re in great shape certainly. We have great character kids. We have really good players,” Pecknold said. “But as you see over and over again, it can’t just be good coaching or good players, it has to be together.”

Unfortunately for Pecknold, this will be the first season in five years without assistant coach Reid Cashman behind the bench. In July, Cashman was named assistant coach of the Washington Capitals’ minor league affiliate, the AHL’s Hershey Bears.

“If you’re going to have success, like we had last year, you’re going to lose players and you’re going to lose coaches. We lost Reid [Cashman], which was a big loss for us,” Pecknold said. “We’ve been thrilled with Joe Dumais, he’s been awesome. He’s a great replacement.”

Returning players will also have to adjust to life with a new assistant, just one of the many hopeful improvements moving forward.

As a result of lost talent, players with potential like Craig Martin, Thomas Aldworth, Bo Pieper, Andrew Taverner, Luke Shiplo and Boston University transfer Kevin Duane will need to step up big this season. While each player brings something unique to the table, it is pertinent that these players take their skills and further improve in hopes of making a long-lasting impact.

“We have guys that are trying to take the roles over and trying to put up bigger numbers this year,” MacMaster said. “This year I think we need to just stick to what was successful for us last year. We had an unreal [penalty kill] and power play, our special teams were really good, we had four lines that were going every game, so I think if we keep that up…we’ll have another good year.”

Although only a handful remain, the efforts of forwards Landon Smith, Tim Clifton, Scott Davidson, K.J. Tiefenwerth, Tanner MacMaster and Tommy Schutt, and defensemen Connor Clifton, Derek Smith, Chase Priskie and Kevin McKernan will have to be at least repeated in order to accomplish similar success.

It is easy to say Quinnipiac will repeat with another standout season since the ECAC preseason polls rank the Bobcats as the favorite to win the conference. However, putting words into action is no easy task.

“I think that regardless of the preseason ECAC polls, we played in the National Championship last year. Teams are going to be gunning for us no matter what. We made it to the National Championship Game, but we didn’t do what we wanted to and planned to, so I think that’s the goal, just like every year and that’s what we’re going to work for,” Connor Clifton said.

“We’re an elite team now, we’re one of the powerhouses in college hockey and it’s just great to see.”

 

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About Justin Cait

Justin joined The Chronicle in 2015. He is a former Quinnipiac men's ice hockey writer, former Sports Editor and former Web Director of the newspaper.

Journalism major / Sports Studies minor
Junior, Class of 2019
Twitter: @justin_cait
justincait.com