Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Know Your Enemy: Quinnipiac

Heartbreaking. There's really not much of a better way to put the way the greatest season, by far, in Quinnipiac's hockey history ended. To get as far as they did only to come up short against your most hated, damned, despised rivals who've never seemed to give you the respect you feel you've earned... it has to be extremely gut-wrenching. Go ahead. Imagine losing the national championship to Clarkson or Union in a season where the Engineers previously smoked them three times. Sorry about that mental image, but it's a perfect comparison to what happened to the Bobcats last season. There are literally 57 other teams they probably would have preferred to lose to, if that was to be their fate.

Nickname: Bobcats
Location: Hamden, CT
Founded: 1929
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2013
Last Frozen Four: 2013
Coach: Rand Pecknold (20th season)
2012-13 Record: 30-8-5 (17-2-3 ECAC, 1st place)
Series: Quinnipiac leads, 8-6-7
First Game: October 16, 1999 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: February 19, 2010 (Troy, NY)
Last QU win: December 1, 2012 (Troy, NY)

2013-14 games: December 6, 2013 (Troy, NY); January 11, 2014 (Hamden, CT)

Key players: F Cory Hibbeler, sr.; F Connor Jones, sr.; F Kellen Jones, sr.; F Jordan Samuels-Thomas, sr.; D Zach Tolkinen, sr.; D Danny Federico, jr.; F Matthew Peca, jr.; F Bryce Van Brabant, jr.; D Alex Barron, so.; G Michael Gartieg, so.; F Travis St. Denis, so.; F Sam Anas, fr.; D Connor Clifton, fr.; F Tim Clifton, fr.; F Peter Quenneville, fr.; D Brayden Sherbinin, fr.; F Jason Stephanik, fr.; D Devon Toews, fr.

Key losses: G Eric Hartzell, F Jeremy Langlois, F Ben Arnt, F Clay Harvey, D Zach Davies, D Mike Dalhuisen, D Loren Barron, F Russell Goodman, D Zach Currie

Previous KYE installment:
Last season, we openly queried how Quinnipiac could surpass expectations (which we noted was an every-year thing for them) in a season where we expected them to be one of the best teams in the league. Well, they certainly managed to accomplish the task by running away with the ECAC regular season title, functionally wrapping up the #1 seed in January and finishing with more league points than any team in the last eight years.

Along the way, they put together a mighty impressive 21-game unbeaten streak between November 9 and February 9 that propelled them to the top ranked team in the country. During that 18-0-3 stretch, opposing teams pierced the magic three-goal mark only once - Nebraska-Omaha in a 5-4 Quinnipiac victory. That contributed to the Bobcats putting together the top defense in the entire country last year one of only two with a team goals against average under 2.00.

Befitting a team that wins that many games, the offense was as dialed in as the defense for much of the season. Five different players scored 12 or more goals last season, and an additional seven scored five or more. That's diversity in where your goals are coming from, always a good thing for any team.

That combination only served to make the team's two most painful losses of the season - twin 4-0 losses to Brown and Yale that deprived the Bobcats of the ECAC championship and the national championship respectively - that much more difficult to handle for the QU faithful.

The Yale loss was the ultimate stab in the chest. In three earlier games against their hated southern Connecticut rivals - two regular season games and the ECAC consolation game - the Bobcats had won all of them by a combined 13-3 tally, including a 4-1 triumph on national television at home. Then, with all the marbles on the line, in front of over 18,000 fans in Pittsburgh, the offense went silent, and the defense that held so well for nearly the entire season and 40 minutes of a pressure-cooker final game cracked.

You've gotta feel for them. But don't feel too bad, because the party's probably not entirely over in Hamden. Of the five double-digit goal scorers, four of them return: Samuels-Thomas, who led the team with 17, Peca, who blitzed Union with a first-period natural hat trick to help lift the Q to the Frozen Four, and the Jones twins, who by now should need no introduction. The Bobcats have plenty of young talent when it comes to scoring goals as well. Their offense alone means they're going to continue to be an impressively dangerous team. Adding to that firepower especially will be Anas and Quenneville, who were among the top scorers in the USHL last season. The Q remains loaded for bear offensively.

The biggest change, as with Union, is going to be on defense. Losing Hartzell, a Hobey Baker finalist, and a group of four senior defensemen who missed a combined total of two games last year (out of a potential 172) means we're going to see an almost completely different look for the Bobcats when they don't have the puck. In net, we're likely to see Gartieg, who had impressive bonafides from the BCHL when he came to campus last year but got almost no playing time behind the best goaltender in the country. His one start of the season came in the infamous loss to American International, in which he stopped 13 of 15 shots and really wasn't the reason Quinnipiac lost the game. Otherwise, his appearances were mop-up in nature.

Two of the incoming freshman defensemen, Toews and Clifton, are blue-chip recruits who appear ready to be solid contributors from the start, but the mere fact that the defensive makeup is going to be radically different from last year is the key issue. This unit is likely to require more time than last year's did to really gel.

The defense is the question, but the offense is beyond question. There's enough firepower at the Q that even a shadow of the defense this team put up last season would be enough to make them contenders in ECAC play. Union, before Josh Jooris' late departure, was the only team that could claim as much firepower among its seniors, but the Bobcats seem more well-rounded and diverse offensively. The Engineers were one of the few teams last season that had the chops to run with Quinnipiac in the midst of their streak - that boneheaded mistake that led to the late 3-on-5 goal pushed them over in Troy, while the Tute picked up one of the three ties of the streak in Hamden. It's entirely possible that with the strengths RPI brings to the table, Quinnipiac's defense is going to need to be hearty in order to withstand, even with the offensive strengths.

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