Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey 2018-19 preview

The Bobcats are looking to bounce back from an underwhelming 2017-18 campaign

By on October 2, 2018

The Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey team’s 2017-18 season did not go as planned.

It’s not much of a debate. The stats are there to prove it. The frustration was visible all season. And frankly, the turnover of the team from last year to this year shows it.

Morgan Tencza | The Quinnipiac Chronicle
It was the first losing season for the team since head coach Rand Pecknold’s second season at Quinnipiac in 1995-96. It was an up-and-down year that saw small flashes of promise, but more stretches of disappointment. Two players were removed from the team during the winter. A lot of players that had high expectations really just underperformed.

To sum up the season, look at the postseason for the Bobcats. Those four games they played spoke to how their whole year went. Two well-played games against rival Yale got them into the quarterfinals, but an embarrassing 9-1 loss in game one against Cornell immediately took all of that momentum away.

Just as it seemed the Bobcats had it figured out, they went out and, well…looked like an entirely different team. And that’s how the season went.

The thing is, this team is not the same team from last year.

The freshman class consists of 12 new players, meaning just under half of the team will be putting on the Quinnipiac jersey for the first time.

Not only that, but they are bringing back seven out of their top 10 point scorers from last year, including top point scorer and ECAC Rookie of the Year candidate in sophomore Odeen Tufto. Junior Alex Whelan, who finished last year with a team-leading 16 goals, will be back as well.

But most importantly, in the ECAC men’s hockey teleconference, Pecknold said something is back this year that lacked last season.

“The culture is back and the buy-in is there,” Pecknold said.

With that, I’ll dive into each position and see how this 2018-19 team is shaped.

FORWARDS

The forwards will be a big question mark to start off the season. The reasoning is because out of all the forwards they have, only five have played significant time at the collegiate level. Yes, five.

For those non-hockey folks out there, a team mostly dresses 12 forwards per game. That means over half of the forwards the team will be putting out haven’t registered a single collegiate minute of ice time.

But, as mentioned, their top forwards from last season are the ones that are coming back. Whelan and Tufto will look to build off solid 2017-18 campaigns. Pecknold stated that Tufto will actually be making a switch from wing to center to start the year.

Pecknold also expects seniors Craig Martin and Scott Davidson to play bigger roles than last year. Junior Nick Jermain will be a player to look out for, especially if he is linemates again with Tufto.

As far as the freshmen go, there are certainly plenty of spots for the season opening roster. I expect Pecknold will work a number of different lines and personnel throughout the first few games in October before ECAC Hockey play starts in November. Despite not having played a game, Pecknold has an idea of who he expects to see making an impact.

“It’s a little early. Ethan de Jong and Wyatt [Bongiovanni] all look really good,” Pecknold said. “It’s early but they look like they’ll have some major impact as freshmen.”

One of the big things that I’ll be interested in seeing is how Pecknold will replace the loss of Tanner MacMaster. He was a shifty forward with excellent hands and speed, and the line of MacMaster, Tufto and Jermain became a force at the end of last year. It’s one of many question marks surrounding an offense that was just average last year (2.76 goals per game, seventh in ECAC).

DEFENSEMEN

At the defense position, the Bobcats are looking pretty good. While the loss of John Furgele and Kevin McKernan hurt, the team does bring back most of their other defensemen.

According to Pecknold, the top four defensemen will be Karlis Cukste, Chase Priskie, Brogan Rafferty and Brandon Fortunato. That leaves two open spots for the last defensive pair.

“We’re excited about the top four we have,” Pecknold said. “And it’ll be interesting to see what [Diliberatore] can do.”

Peter Diliberatore, who was taken in the seventh round of the NHL Draft by the Vegas Golden Knights, is arguably the biggest highlight of this freshmen class. The defenseman from Salisbury School (Salisbury, Connecticut) has an opportunity to immediately make his presence felt, with top spots open.

Quinnipiac has a history of successful offense from defensemen. Before last year, the team had at least two defensemen in the top ten in terms of points the last three years in the ECAC, with two of those years have three of the top four scoring defensemen.

As much success as the defense has offensively, with weapons like Priskie’s one-time option on the power play, the question will be how well in the defensive zone will they play.

GOALTENDERS

All three of the goaltenders from last year will return, with junior Andrew Shortridge and sophomore Keith Petruzzelli both looking to bounce back from underwhelming years and compete for the starting job.

If you look at the stats as a whole team, in almost every category, Quinnipiac was average. Goals per game (2.76), power play (18.2 percent), goals against (2.60), it sat around the middle of the pack in the ECAC. All except for one category and that was save percentage.

The tandem of Shortridge and Petruzzelli combined for a .893 save percentage, finishing dead last in the ECAC. Shortridge had a .906 while Petruzzelli posted a .892. While the team’s goals against average (2.75) put them in the middle of the ECAC, the statistics of save percentage is concerning. This means that while they don’t give up a lot of goals, they are allowing goals on fewer shots.

Shortridge certainly had a setback after posting solid numbers his freshman year (13-7, 2.09 GAA, .920 save percentage). Petruzzelli had a lot of hype coming into last year, being drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the third round of the 2017 NHL Draft and being a participant of the U.S. U-18 National team in 2016. Even an average performance felt like a disappointment. Pecknold expects both of his goalies to “make a big jump,” and will be looking for “one or both to get hot.”

So going off of my last point about Petruzzelli, what could be said of the true freshman goaltender can also be said of the team. They came in with so much hype and high expectations last year, that an average year was not acceptable because it wasn’t what this program was about.

“Our culture was so good…from that five to six year span,” Pecknold said. “The buy-in was off the charts, we set the bar so high. It wasn’t bad last year, but it wasn’t where we wanted to be.”

The team this year was picked to finish eighth and seventh in the ECAC hockey preseason media and coaches’ polls respectively, so while their current ranking isn’t the highest, the preseason polls mean nothing. Harvard and Quinnipiac were picked to go No. 1 and 2 last year and they ended up at No. 4 and 9.

It had been 22 years since their last losing season. Quinnipiac isn’t known for an average hockey program. The program has been more than good for the last couple of decades, but as the saying goes, “All good things must come to an end.”

But I think that Pecknold predicted this year perfectly at the conclusion of last year.

“It’s a pretty good streak that came to an end,” Pecknold said. “But we’ll be aggressive in getting back to where we need to be and we’ll get another streak going next year.”

I believe the Bobcats are on the up, with everyone brushing them by as a team in the middle of a slump. But with new faces I think will come a new identity compared to what they’ve had in the past couple of years and the old Quinnipiac culture will be back.

PREDICTION

       ECAC Hockey semifinals loss

Comments

About Bryan Murphy

Associate Sports Editor