Murphy’s Law: Hungry for more

By on October 9, 2019

Ten more wins. A winning percentage that improved by .237. A top-10 final ranking. And an NCAA tournament berth.

After a subpar 2017-18 season, Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey had one of the best bounceback seasons last year. Finishing the year with a 26-10-2 record, the Bobcats had much more success and brought the Quinnipiac name back to the top of NCAA Hockey.

However, with all of the positives of last season, it wasn’t enough for the Bobcats, according to sophomore forward Wyatt Bongiovanni.

“It was like, we came all this way, and I don’t want to say we didn’t fulfill what we are capable of, but I think we definitely knew the potential we had [last] year,” Bongiovanni said. “Coming into this year, we don’t take anything for granted, we don’t take anything lightly. Every game we play is a playoff game.”

Connor Lawless
The team finished tied for first in ECAC Hockey along with Cornell, but it was upset in the quarterfinals of the playoffs by Brown. Despite the early exit, Quinnipiac received the No. 8 rank in the USCHO poll, giving them a chance in the NCAA Tournament.

Quinnipiac took down Arizona State 2-1 in the first game of the Midwest regional. However, it ran into the buzzsaw that was Minnesota-Duluth, who beat the Bobcats 3-1 in the Midwest finals and eventually would be crowned NCAA champions for the second year in a row.

This year, Quinnipiac is back in the headlines to start the season. With a current ranking of No. 9 in the USCHO polls and a No.2/No. 3 in the ECAC Hockey coaches’ and media preseason polls respectively, Quinnipiac looks to build off of a strong showcase from last year. But with over 75% of the team being sophomores and freshmen, Pecknold will need his young team to mature fast.

“Being so young, the freshmen still haven’t figured everything out and we’re kind of getting the sophomores back on page,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. “Right now it’s about creating good habits in practice and those traits will translate to games.”

With the spotlight and the pressure back on the Bobcats, let’s see how the team shapes up for this season.

FORWARDS

The front 12 for the Bobcats come into the season without many gaps. Having only lost two forwards to graduation in Craig Martin and Scott Davidson and one transfer in Matthew Cassidy, who only played in 15 games, the forward group has a plethora of returners.

Eleven players from last year’s roster will be wearing the gold and blue once again this season, with some of them being the team’s top point-scorers from last year. Junior Odeen Tufto is coming off of back-to-back 40-point seasons, the first Bobcat since Reid Cashman (’07) to complete this feat. His 27 assists ranked first among all Quinnipiac players and his 42 points led the Bobcats last year, along with ranking him fourth in ECAC Hockey.

Senior Alex Whelan enjoyed another successful season, ranking fourth on the team in goals (13) and tied for fifth in points (25). Senior captain Nick Jermain registered 10 points, but missed part of the year with an injury.

Connor Lawless
With only four upperclassmen at forward, Pecknold will once again rely on his underclassmen to carry a heavy workload.

That method paid off last year for sure. Four of the current sophomores played in every single tilt last year – Ethan de Jong, Wyatt Bongiovanni, William Fällström and Michael Lombardi. De Jong, Bongiovanni and Fällström all recorded at least 20 points, with Bongiovanni finishing third on the team in goals with 14. Lombardi added nine points last season and sophomore Desi Burgart had eight. 

As for the freshmen group, Pecknold said he expected Skylar Brind’Amour, Ethan Leyh and PJ Fletcher to make an impact right away. Brind’Amour, the son of former NHL star and current Carolina Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour, comes to Quinnipiac after a successful couple of seasons with the BCHL’s Chilliwack Chiefs, with 44 points in 52 games last season. He was drafted in 2017 by the Edmonton Oilers.

Leyh was originally committed to go to Wisconsin, but elected to decommit in January and come to Hamden. In two seasons with the Langley Rivermen of the BCHL, Leyh put up 73 points in 104 regular season games. Fletcher, also of the BCHL with the Wenatchee Wild, had 26 points last year in his team’s 58 games.

Redshirt freshman Guus van Nes will finally be able to play in games for the Bobcats this season. After transcript issues ruled him ineligible for the season last year, van Nes will have a slight advantage over the rest of the first-years, considering he has been around the team for a full year.

“That hurt us, we had a great season but we were counting on him to be a big part of that,” Pecknold said. “Unfortunately what happens with some of these European players is they don’t know some of the rules and don’t take enough math, English or science [classes]. His grades were great, he was a credit short and it is just a different school system.”

While the freshmen will be key, Pecknold believes the depth is the strong suit of his forward group.

“This year, we are loaded at forward,” Pecknold said. “In my 26 years, I’d say it’s probably the second-best depth we’ve ever had at forward.”

DEFENSEMEN

The defense was the strength for the Bobcats going into the last season, led by a core of three seniors and two juniors. However, with the trio of Chase Priskie, Brandon Fortunato and Luke Shiplo graduated and Brogan Rafferty foregoing his final year to play professionally, the Bobcats will have to rely on the underclassmen to step up into bigger roles.

The lone upperclassman on defense is senior Karlis Cukste, who elected not to sign with the San Jose Sharks this offseason, who drafted him in 2016. Instead, he comes back to Quinnipiac to lead the defensive group with a lot of spots open in the top six.

Along with Cukste, sophomore Peter DiLiberatore should be pencilled in for a top-four role. The finalist for ECAC Hockey Rookie of the Year had a slow start to the season, but ended up with 19 points at the end of the year. The Vegas Golden Knights’ draft pick led the team in plus/minus with 22.

Connor Lawless
As for the rest of the defensemen … well it’s a mixed bag. Sophomores Zach Metsa, TJ Friedmann and Cam Boudreau all saw an increase in playing time last year towards the end of the year, thanks to the suspensions Priskie and Shiplo received after the infamous Yale game. Friedmann, who primarily played forward, was put at defense in the ECAC Hockey quarterfinal round against Brown and received praise from Pecknold.

“As a coach, I always believe to think outside the box,” Pecknold said. “We were a little thin with our depth last year at [defense] so we put TJ back when Priskie and Shiplo were out. I just feel that I thought he’d be good at it and he was … I think he’s a better defenseman than he is a forward. He’s got a good stick, he defends well, has good outlets.”

As for the freshmen, it will be a feeling-out process to start the year. Five freshmen are rostered as defensemen, with three of them – CJ McGee, Logan Britt and Jayden Lee – having participated in the exhibition game last Sunday.

All in all, people saw how much the loss of Fortunato (knee injury) and Priskie (suspension) impacted the team last year. The team went 6-5-1 without Fortunato and were swept in the Brown series without Priskie. This year, they have no choice but to fill those voids.

GOALTENDERS

Andrew Shortridge could be argued as the best goaltender in the country last year. He was a Mike Richter finalist for Goaltender of the Year, leading the nation in goals against average (1.51) and save percentage (.940). Shortridge elected to leave Quinnipiac early and signed with the San Jose Sharks. He looks to be the starter with their AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda.

It really doesn’t matter who is in net, but they have large shoes to fill after Shortridge’s immaculate season. Junior Keith Petruzzelli seems to be the starter this year, after splitting time with Shortridge his freshman year and starting the beginning of the season last year before losing it to Shortridge. Petruzzelli still posted an 8-3-0 record with three shutouts, a 2.42 GAA and .904 save percentage.

Morgan Tencza | The Quinnipiac Chronicle
The Detroit Red Wings’ third-round draft pick may once again face some competition in the crease. Freshman goaltender Evan Fear comes to Hamden with an impressive résumé. Coming from the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL, Fear recorded a 2.13 GAA and .925 save percentage in the regular season, and posted a 1.99 GAA and .922 save percentage in the postseason.

Fear played the third period and overtime in the exhibition game Sunday and appears to be the backup to Petruzzelli. But as we have seen Pecknold do before, he will ride whoever has the hot hand in the crease.

For Quinnipiac, it will be how quickly can the freshmen adapt to the DI hockey style, especially the physicality of the ECAC Hockey. For the returners, with all the success they experienced last year, they set out to prove that despite all of the youth on the team, Quinnipiac still is hungry for more and they believe that the country will hear their roar once again.

“I feel like there was that bittersweet feeling of being that close [last season], and not getting there,” Cukste said. “I think that works as motivation.

“Having guys leave and people kind of saying how much we lost, we have that chip on our shoulders that we can do it. We can go out and compete every day and have a great season.”

PREDICTION

ECAC Hockey semifinals loss; NCAA Tournament regional final loss

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