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Cait’s Column: Finally finding a rhythm
Select Quinnipiac men's ice hockey players in unnatural positions have slowly adjusted to their new roles in the 2017-18 season
“If you go back 15 years ago even, Rand had guys that played forward and D, so it’s just a really big advantage to have on the bench when you’re in a game and a defenseman gets hurt, or somebody goes down, you have a person to fill in there.” – Quinnipiac associate head coach Joe Dumais
Not only has the perennial powerhouse failed to live up to its high expectations this season, but a few players that carried important roles in years past have changed positions at crucial points of their respective collegiate careers.
The Bobcats’ roster has gone through a lot of change since the end of last season.
They graduated a pair of dependable centers (Tim Clifton and Tommy Schutt) after the 2016-17 campaign, took on two defensemen (Brandon Fortunato and John Furgele) following their respective transfer years this season and then lost two wingers (Thomas Aldworth and Logan Mick) right smack in the middle of the season as well.
Following the unaccustomed events, Quinnipiac’s typical game-night lineup has a makeshift feel to it almost every night.
The major changes
As a result of the lack of depth at center this season, junior wingers Craig Martin and Scott Davidson have shifted to center for the bulk of the season.
Junior defenseman Luke Shiplo has been on the wing in 23 of the 27 games he’s played in this season, and even freshman defenseman Joe O’Connor has seen his first collegiate action at forward as well, due to the logjam on the blue line and most recently the departure of two wingers.
“When you’re on D you can see the ice, everything is in front of you. When you’re on forward it’s just a completely different game, you’ve got guys all over you,” Shiplo said. “… For [O’Connor], he’s just getting used to the systems still, so trying to learn both D and forward is tough, but it’s good for him that he’s able to do that [as a freshman].”
But for the wingers that moved to center, it isn’t as easy if they were to switch the opposite way. Both of the provisional centers noted that playing down the middle comes with “more responsibility.”
“You’ve got to be the first guy back down low, have to help the d-men out more and then faceoffs are a big part of it too,” Davidson said.
It might not be a coincidence that each player — Martin, Davidson and Shiplo in this case — has produced at a lower offensive rate than their first two seasons combined.
In the 2017 portion of this season, Martin scored only seven points in 18 games after a 27-point season in 2016-17. Davidson had only six points in that same span and Shiplo had just four assists in 14 games.
While each of the three players had their individual struggles this season, it seems as though they’re all starting to find their respective strides 32 games deep into the season, right when it counts.
“It was definitely a bit of an adjustment and a bit of a process taking faceoffs every shift and getting stronger in the d-zone,” Martin said. “I feel like it’s coming along… But it’s been going a bit better lately I think.”
The recent results
Shiplo scored his first of the season on Jan. 30, has only been a minus twice (-1 both times) in the following six games since and moved back to defense for injured senior defenseman Kevin McKernan this past weekend against Union and RPI.
Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold called Davidson one of two “excellent” players after a tough loss against Union on Friday night and he, along with Martin, scored a goal in Quinnipiac’s win over RPI on Saturday.
It’s apparent that the process of accommodation took some time for the three, but the comfort levels at new positions are becoming more natural now and are helping the team’s offensive efforts as a whole.
While the Bobcats have a 40.6 winning percentage (13-15-4) on the season, they have taken a step in the right direction by carrying a winning percentage of 50 percent (5-3-2) over their last 10 games.
And in its two most recent wins — in which Quinnipiac’s top line was held off of the scoresheet — it’s been the secondary scoring from the bottom-six players that has carried the team offensively.
“It feels great to score,” Davidson said after Saturday’s victory. “It doesn’t come very often, but when it does it’s awesome.”
The three — and sometimes four when Joe O’Connor is in the lineup — hybrid skaters that make up the majority of the bottom-six will be a crucial part to Quinnipiac’s success moving into ECAC Hockey playoff time.
Although it’s been a difficult adjustment for the skaters that have played out of their natural positions up to this point of the season, their efforts are admirable amongst the team and their comfort levels are finally settling in.
“They’ve got to be willing to do it with no arguments and they’re excited to go out there and play wherever it is,” Quinnipiac associate head coach Bill Riga said.