No. 19 Quinnipiac ready for Lake Placid
The Bobcats look to keep their season alive against No. 2 Harvard in the ECAC Hockey semifinals
In a rematch of last season’s ECAC Hockey championship game, fifth-seeded (nationally-ranked No. 19) Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey is set to play top-seeded (nationally-ranked No. 2) Harvard in this year’s ECAC Hockey semifinals.
So far in the ECAC Hockey Tournament, top-seeded Harvard defeated Yale in two games after earning a first-round bye, while the Bobcats beat out Brown in the tournament’s first round and upset fourth-seeded St. Lawrence on the road in the quarterfinals.
“[I’m] very proud of our team and what we’ve accomplished so far,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. “It was a great series with St. Lawrence this past weekend, a real battle… So we found a way to advance and we’re looking forward to defending the Whitelaw Cup.”
Quinnipiac still sits atop the ECAC Hockey throne in script, however, defending the Whitelaw Cup is no easy task since a difficult path is in the Bobcats’ future. Beating St. Lawrence was a feat in itself, but conquering Harvard before playing the winner of either second-seeded (nationally-ranked No. 6) Union or third-seeded (nationally-ranked No. 9) Cornell will speak volumes of this team if that time comes. Sizing up against the Harvard, Quinnipiac has a few crucial points to take note of.
First, junior goaltender Merrick Madsen has backstopped the Crimson to a 14-game unbeaten streak entering semifinals play. Next, Harvard possesses high-end talent on all areas of the ice, as it boasts seven NHL-drafted players, including Madsen, a sixth-rounder of the Philadelphia Flyers in net, Boston Bruins second-round pick Ryan Donato up front and Calgary Flames third-round pick Adam Fox at the blue line. But the main point of emphasis for Quinnipiac this weekend is to not let Harvard on the power play, especially following a weekend of an uncharacteristic 44 penalty minutes.
“Probably the simplest thing is we have to stay out of the penalty box,” Pecknold said. “That power play is lethal and you just can’t give them that many opportunities.”
The two teams have split the season series in 2016-17. Quinnipiac won the first matchup 4-2 on Nov. 12, while Harvard flexed its offense in the second game, winning 5-2 on Jan. 6.
Harvard is the fourth-best team on the man-advantage in the nation coming into the weekend, holding onto a 26.6-percent conversion rate on 139 power play opportunities. Individually, senior captain Alexander Kerfoot leads the way with eight power play goals, that adds to his incredible 40 points in 31 games.
“We really need to limit their odd-man rushes, their breakaways, their 2-on-1’s. We’ve gotta be smart, (in not) giving those up,” Pecknold said. “We can’t sit back and play a three-man defense. That doesn’t work against the Harvard’s of the world.”
The defensive lapses are not too distant from the Bobcats’ memories, as their first game against St. Lawrence was a “poor effort” as told by Coach Pecknold. Fortunately for Pecknold’s squad, they rebounded when it counted and look to carry that momentum into the all-important semifinal contest.
“Friday night, I didn’t think we played our best game against St. Lawrence. I give them credit. I thought they were better than us, they out-competed us,” Pecknold said. “Then I thought Saturday and Sunday we got a lot of desperation in our game and that’s when we’re good… I think we lost (the desperation) at times during the season, but certainly we had it on the weekend and absolutely we will need it to beat a team as talented as Harvard is on Friday night.”
In order to play an offensive-minded game, Quinnipiac will have to rely on goal-scoring. While it has generated the second-most shots in the country (1395), the goal-scoring hasn’t matched up in the team’s 2016-17 campaign. The leading offensive contributions from players like senior assistant captain Tim Clifton, junior Landon Smith, junior Bo Pieper, sophomore Craig Martin and sophomore Chase Priskie have seldom been at Quinnipiac’s consistent disposal. There is a need for consistency — that was shown in the latter of the two games against St. Lawrence — from role players on this team as well.
“I think a lot of our guys, their numbers are off,” Pecknold said. “We lost Devon Toews and Sam Anas graduate, and they would’ve been two of the best players, if not the two best, if they came back, so we haven’t scored like we did last year.”
One of — if not the most important — factors to this series will be the game’s first goal. When the Bobcats drew blood first against a hot goalie in St. Lawrence’s Kyle Hayton, the complexion of the game changed and momentum was immediately swung in Quinnipiac’s favor.
While the first-round series opponent Brown’s goaltending (and really defense as a whole) was far worse than both St. Lawrence or Harvard, Quinnipiac was quick to score on both occasions, and eventually won those games with an initial lead instead of clawing back from a deficit. Freshman Alex Whelan, the ECAC Hockey Rookie of the Week, scored 32 seconds into Game 1 against Brown and then 16 seconds into Game 2 against St. Lawrence.
His constant compete level and willingness to work is what Pecknold needs to trickle down onto the rest of his team in order to thoroughly compete in the biggest game of Quinnipiac’s season.
“The buy-in, it’s been a little inconsistent at times and that’s why we’ve been inconsistent,” Pecknold said. “I think when our guys are all-in and they understand what we need to do to win and play to our identity, that’s when we win games.”