Murphy’s Law: Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey off to a perfect start

By on October 23, 2018

The Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey team could not have asked for a better beginning to the season.

The Bobcats are off to a 3-0-0 start to the season, the first time they’ve gone undefeated in their first three games since the 2015-16 season.

Oh, and what happened that year?

An ECAC Hockey championship and an NCAA Frozen Four championship appearance.

Morgan Tencza | The Quinnipiac Chronicle
That perfect start has been thanks to a 3-2 comeback win against Vermont, a 4-2 defeat of in-state rival UConn and a 1-0 upset of then-No. 18 Boston College.

In addition, the team is now ranked at No. 20 in the USCHO Division I poll. The poll was released on the morning of Monday, Oct. 22 and it is the first time Quinnipiac has been in the top 20 rankings since last year when it was ranked No. 16 for the week of Nov. 17, 2017.

There’s been four main reasons as to why this team is where they’re at: sophomore goaltender Keith Petruzzelli, senior defenseman and captain Chase Priskie, the freshmen and the revival of Quinnipiac hockey culture.

Petruzzelli is coming off of a freshman campaign that, like the team, was underwhelming. His 2.88 goals against average put him at tenth out of 16 goaltenders in ECAC Hockey, but his save percentage (.892) placed him 15th out of those 16 goalies. Now, Petruzzelli is showing that is freshman season wasn’t his true colors and he’s proving why he was a third-round draft pick by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2017 NHL Draft.

Head coach Rand Pecknold has given the Wilbraham, Massachusetts native all three starts on the season and Petruzzelli has not disappointed. He’s 3-0 with a .934 save percentage and 1.34 goals against average and recorded his first career shutout in the 1-0 win against Boston College.

According to Pecknold, the difference between this year and last year has been maturity.

“It’s tough playing in college hockey at 18 years old,” Pecknold said. “It’s tough being a goalie at 18 years old. He just needed a summer to mature. He’s still got a ways to go with his strength and nutrition and stuff. But he’s working hard with Jared Waimon, our goalie coach, and been battling out in practice and taking a pretty good jump.”

Petruzzelli’s play has earned the trust of his teammates, and most notably, his captain.

“We’re really confident [with Petruzzelli],” Priskie said. “He looks more confident in net. He’s coming out and challenging [shooters]. He’s a big goalie. So when he does that, he really cuts down the angle and makes saves. I think last year he was a little intimidated to do that. As long as he just keeps doing what he has been doing, he’ll be great.”

While Priskie has acknowledged the play of his goaltender, Priskie’s play hasn’t gone unnoticed either. When it comes to Priskie, no one put it better than his head coach.

“[Priskie] has been our best player,” Pecknold said. “He’s basically our best player every night. He’s been defending better, he’s got 

a great stick, he’s got those skates, he’s got great legs. Good instincts on when to jump in the play.”

Priskie has been a dominant force on the ice this year, both in the offensive and defensive zone. His signature slap shot has already potted him two goals, which puts him in the lead for the team. He also sports a +4, good for the team lead in plus/minus.

While Priskie individually has excelled, he gives the credit to the players that he is surrounded with.

“I think of a lot of [my success] has been guys around me have stepped up,” Priskie said. “Obviously I wanted to come into my last year and play as well as I can, just kind of forget about everything and go out and play hockey. I give so much credit to the guys in the locker room. They’ve elevated their game as well.”

And now the freshmen. It hasn’t been the big names so far that have made the headlines. The tandem of defenseman Peter DiLiberatore and forwards Wyatt Bongiovanni and Ethan de Jong have looked good, but have only accounted for a goal and two assists.

Instead, it has been forwards William Fällstrӧm and Desi Burgart that have impressed early on. Fällstrӧm’s two goals against UConn propelled the team to the win and he also has an assist to put him tied for the team lead in points with senior forward Craig Martin (three assists).

In addition, Pecknold has been putting Fällstrӧm out in late minutes of those close games. He was out in the final minute against UConn when he was able to score the empty-netter and he was playing in the final minute against Boston College. He also drew a penalty with 2:26 to go against Boston College to essentially seal the win for Quinnipiac as it was on the man-advantage for almost the rest of the game.

“He’s a great two-way hockey player,” Pecknold said. “He’s probably our best defensive center, which is a lot to ask of a freshman.”

Asking a lot from Fällstrӧm is something that the Swede saw coming.

“Ever since I’ve committed here, they’ve expected big things for me,” Fällstrӧm said. “So, of course getting those jobs and getting ice time is a great experience.”

Along with Fällstrӧm, Burgart plays along the same lines. He does a lot of good things in both the defensive and offensive zones. He’s spent quite a bit of time on the penalty kill, something that he is especially happy for.

“I just want to contribute in any way I can,” Burgart said. “I’ve been on the penalty kill and that’s something I take a lot of pride in.”

Burgart’s vision on the ice is another key to his game. In the UConn game, he made a quick look while entering the offensive zone and found senior defenseman Brandon Fortunato wide open in the slot where he scored the opening goal. His assist in the first game against Vermont has got him two points so far.

“[Burgart] has been quietly one of our better freshmen,” Pecknold said. “He’s got a really high IQ and very coachable. He understands what we’re asking him to do and because of his IQ, he’s able wing it a little bit on the fly.”

Finally, that Quinnipiac culture is coming back. The buy-in on the culture, or lack there of, last year was something Pecknold has stressed on multiple occasions this year. But what he’s seeing so far this year has made him believe that a page has been turned.

“Having that buy-in this early in the season has been pretty impressive,” Pecknold said. “It’s culture. There’s so many things that go into developing a good culture. I thought we lost it a little bit last year. Through three games it looks like we have it back.”

After how last year went, Priskie said the upperclassmen came together in the spring to discuss the expectation of this season.

“We were just tired of losing,” Priskie said. “And it’s not acceptable here. We don’t have a losing culture. We came together and reestablished our standard of excellence. If guys don’t want to be up to that standard, then they just won’t be playing. They won’t be putting that jersey on.”

It’s a standard that has been clearly held and is evident throughout the team’s first few games. The next weekend consists of a home-and-home against American International College, a team who has yet to have a winning season since joining Division I hockey in 1998. But Pecknold knows his team needs to come ready to play Quinnipiac hockey.

“AIC is a really good hockey team, I’ve been impressed watching some of their games already,” Pecknold said. “We can’t have a mental letdown after the Boston College environment. We gotta stay focused and be ready to go for Friday.”

As long as the Bobcats continue to play to their winning culture, I see no reason as to why this team wouldn’t be 5-0-0 going into the following weekend’s ECAC Hockey season opening games against Harvard (Nov. 2) and Dartmouth (Nov. 3).

“Establishing that standard was the biggest thing,” Priskie said. “Making guys elevate to that standard everyday. We just force these guys to develop their game and get better and I think we’ve seen that through three games. We’re a tough team to play against.”

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