Many in Atlantic Hockey feel that Quinnipiac suffered the least in terms of losses to graduation. Head coach Rand Pecknold disagrees.
“I’m a little concerned about losing three defensemen,” said Pecknold of the departed Dan Ennis, Wade Winkler and Matt Erhart, along with forward Brian Herbert, from last season’s roster. “I thought they were three of the top five defensemen in the league.”
Look for little pity from the rest of the league. Quinnipiac returns its leading scorer in junior Matt Craig, along with two breakthrough players from a season ago, Matt Froehlich (a 20-goal scorer) and Chris White. Add to that two solid goaltenders in Justin Eddy and Jamie Holden and a formula for success is in place.
Also, the defense will get an immediate boast from the team’s line of recruits. Reid Cashman, who tied for the USHL’s scoring lead among defensemen last year with Minnesota freshman Mike Vannelli, passed up his chance to head to a “Big Four” school and chose Hamden, Conn., as his college hockey home.
“He had a ton of interest shown to him,” said Pecknold, who noted that Quinnipiac beat out Providence, Nebraska-Omaha and St. Cloud in the recruiting battle. “He came out for his visit, though, and he loved the school.”
So with its top recruit landed, Quinnipiac will look to climb back to the top of the conference, a position the Bobcats haven’t enjoyed in the regular season since 1999-2000.
Pecknold believes that the key may lie in the opening weeks of the season.
“I think we’ll be good up front and good in the net, but shaky on [defense] to start the season,” said Pecknold. “Sometimes freshmen come in and play like seniors. You never know. But it’s a good opportunity to get thrown to the lions right away.”
There’s no exaggeration to that statement either. After hosting its annual Quinnipiac Cup tournament to start the year, the Bobcats head on the road for four games — two at Michigan and two at Wisconsin. Those four games are part of a nonconference schedule that also includes Merrimack, Providence and Ohio State.
In terms of X’s and O’s, the first place Pecknold will look to work is his power play. His graduating class included four of the ten players that made up the Bobcats’ two units, and that’s something that concerns the 10th-year coach.
“We need to get our power play resituated,” Pecknold said. “[Matt] Erhart and [Brian] Herbert ran the power play for the last two years. We have so many new faces we just have to figure out who fits where.
“When Herbert was injured last year, our power play went in the tank. It accounts for too much of our offense, so we’ll need to address that right away.”
Pecknold will also look to Froehlich and Craig. Last season, they were each breakthrough players as sophomore, exceeding expectations.
Now, though — just like those for the team itself — expectations will be high.