Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Quinnipiac

Well, that has to be the proverbial kick in the plums. For the second time in four seasons, Quinnipiac was one of the last two teams standing in the nation. And for the second time in four seasons, Quinnipiac had to watch someone else raise the national championship trophy, this time at least with the consolation that it wasn't their most hated rivals from literally down the road - and that they finally got to raise a trophy of their own three weeks earlier by finally winning their first ECAC championship.

Quinnipiac
Nickname: Bobcats
Location: Hamden, CT
Founded: 1929
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2016
Last Frozen Four: 2016
Coach: Rand Pecknold (23rd season)
2015-16 Record: 32-4-7 (16-1-5 ECAC, 1st place)
Series: Quinnipiac leads, 12-6-9
First Game: October 16, 1999 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: February 19, 2010 (Troy, NY)
Last QU win: February 19, 2016 (Troy, NY)

2016-17 games: December 2, 2016 (Hamden, CT); February 18, 2017 (Troy, NY)

Key players: D Connor Clifton, sr.; F Tim Clifton, sr.; F Tommy Schutt, sr.; D Derek Smith, sr.; F K.J. Tiefenwerth, sr.; F Tanner MacMaster, jr.; D Kevin McKernan, jr.; F Bo Pieper, jr.; F Landon Smith, jr.; F Andrew Taverner, jr.; F Tom Aldworth, so.; F Scott Davidson, so.; D Chase Priskie, so.; D Luke Shiplo, so.; D Karlis Cukste, fr.; G Andrew Shortridge, fr.

Key losses: F Sam Anas, F Travis St. Denis, D Devon Toews, G Michael Gartieg, D Alex Miner-Barron, F Soren Jonzzon

Previous KYE installments:
RPI came so frustratingly close to scoring a season sweep of Quinnipiac - two minutes and 14 seconds, to be exact. That's something no team has done since St. Lawrence and Cornell did it in 2012 - and as noted above, an individual win over the Bobcats by RPI hasn't been accomplished in over six years. Instead, the Engineers secured one measly point. That in and of itself speaks volumes of what the Q was capable of last season. It usually seemed like they were never out of any game they were in, no matter how dire things looked.

And they really weren't. Of their four losses on the season, two were by a single goal, and the other two were games that were within a goal heading into the third period. On Twitter, we started using the slogan "kill it with fire" when talking about the Bobcats, especially after they took a 5-2 deficit at Dartmouth with 15 minutes left and won in regulation (with an empty-netter for extra cushion). One certainly could be excused for giving Quinnipiac every potential to come back from a 4-1 third-period hole in the national championship game against North Dakota, but they'd finally met their match in terms of a defense that could withstand the comeback attempt.

In Anas, St. Denis, and Toews, the Bobcats lose three players that combined for 53 goals (more than Arizona State had all year) and 129 points last season. Jonzzon added another 10 goals. That's a lot of juice right there that's now out the door. A sizable part of the offense. But there's plenty returning - six players who tallied 20 or more points last year (both Cliftons, Landon Smith, Priskie, Tiefenwerth, and MacMaster), and 10 players who scored 5 or more goals. It's possible the Q won't be scoring at will as they were wont to do with some frequency last season, but they're not likely to be even remotely helpless up front.

And there's one other element about last year's Quinnipiac team that made them so good - depth. Shiplo in particular is a great example of that. He played in only 13 games last year and scored five goals in that time, but was frequently unable to crack the lineup despite solid play when he was out there. With Toews gone, expect him to get a lot more playing time this year in a similar role. Cukste comes in as Toews' direct replacement, a Baltic beast from Latvia with size and talent who could well compete for plenty of ice time himself. The depth that the Bobcats had among defensemen certainly is something that will play this year as well.

The situation in net is more unknown. In all likelihood, incoming freshman Shortridge is the favorite - he was the top choice goalie for the BCHL's Vernon Vipers last year, finishing 6th in the league with a .915 save percentage. The other options are junior-transfer Chris Truehl, who started at Air Force in 2014 as a sophomore before deciding that the military life wasn't for him (military service at the academies doesn't become a requirement until starting your junior year), and junior Sean Lawrence, whose numbers in limited appearances backing Garteig certainly leave the door open for the job to be someone else's.

Truehl's transfer to the Q is not unusual - part of what has made the Bobcats successful in recent years has been the ability to draw transfers from other programs. The third-leading scorer on the 2013 national championship game team was Jordan Samuels-Thomas, a transfer from Bowling Green. 2015's squad featured Justin Agosta, who transferred from UNH for one season in Hamden. Junior forward Kevin Duane transfers in this year from BU, and next season the Q gains junior-to-be defenseman John Furgele from UNH.

Quinnipiac looks an awful lot like Yale does coming into the 2017 season, only with far more depth along the blue line - plenty of offensive capacity, with questions between the pipes. If Shortridge, or whoever wins the starting job, is able to emulate the man they're replacing in Garteig, Quinnipiac is probably not going to skip much of a beat from last season - perhaps not quite as dominant after losing some very key forwards, but certainly still a force to be reckoned with. Even if the goaltending isn't as strong, this is still a team that would be shocking to see move outside of the top half of the league.

As mentioned above, Quinnipiac has been a serious bugaboo for the Engineers over the past several years, but RPI does seem to be close to solving that riddle. But there's no doubt at all that Jason Kasdorf's heroic play - he made 73 saves in the two games - was a big part of those games being close. Unless the Engineers get some similar goaltending exploits or manage to exploit differences in the Bobcats' last line of defense, the story may not change much from past experiences.

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