HAMDEN, Conn. — After losing its first game since Nov. 6, many Quinnipiac fans wondered if it might be a blessing that the team finally dropped a game. The Bobcats answered that question Saturday with a 2-1 win over Clarkson.
After Union beat Yale last night, the Bobcats clinched the Cleary Cup for the first time in school history. The team was presented with the trophy following tonight’s game, but no Bobcats lifted, held, or touched it.
“I tried to explain to them that it is a different trophy we are trying to win,” Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said smiling. “They were adamant, saying ‘No one touch it, no one touch it.’ So I’ll have to try to explain that again to them on Monday that we are trying to win a different trophy.”
Senior goaltender Eric Hartzell noted after the game that while it is nice to win the regular season championship, it is not the end goal for the team.
“It’s definitely something great to be a part of, but it is definitely not our main goal, so we’ll take it, but we are moving on and we are looking for an ECAC championship.”
Hartzell, who made 28 saves in the win, also did not touch the trophy.
“I looked at it,” Hartzell said grinning. “It’s pretty cool, but I didn’t touch it.”
Quinnipiac took a 1-0 lead just 2:22 into the first period on Bryce Van Brabant’s fourth goal of the season. Jordan Samuels-Thomas fed Van Brabant at the right circle, and he skated to the top of the slot and wristed a shot past Clarkson goaltender Greg Lewis.
About three minutes later, Hartzell showed why he is one goaltending leaders in the nation with a sensational save on James Howden. T.J. Moor carried the puck into the zone on the left and tipped a pass across the slot, where Howden ripped a one-timer. Hartzell dove from the left post and denied Howden in the slot.
“My job is to make the first stop, and I think the defense and the forwards did a great job helping me out and clearing the rebound,” Hartzell said.
Midway through the opening period, Connor Jones made it 2-0. Loren Barron connected with Jones as he skated through a defensive seam at the blue line. Jones walked in a step ahead of the defensemen, faked a shot, and went to his backhand to beat Lewis five-hole.
“I started on the wall and I was like, ‘I should get to the middle of the ice,’” Jones said. “I don’t know if it was the right thing to do, but it worked out alright. Barron made a great pass that found my tapeline, and I was able to break in and finally get a goal.”
Play evened out after Quinnipiac’s second goal, thanks to a few timely saves and solid defense from Clarkson.
“After [the second goal], I thought we battled hard and dug our heels in,” Clarkson coach Casey Jones said. “We just started to play defense, forgot about the scoreboard and played Clarkson hockey.”
Lewis kept it 2-0 with a pair of stellar saves in the second period. First, Barron wristed the puck to Kellen Jones at the right of the goal. Jones skated across the top of the crease to the left side, where Lewis stuck out his left pad to deny Jones’s stuff attempt. Six minutes later, Matthew Peca raced out of the penalty box and into the Golden Knights’ zone on a breakaway. Peca put the puck on his backhand, but Lewis stuck out his right leg pad for the kick save. Lewis finished the night with 32 saves.
“We’re happy to escape with that win tonight,” Pecknold said. “From a defensive standpoint, I thought it was a sloppy effort on our part. I think we gave up more two-on-ones tonight than we have in the past two months combined.”
Clarkson added one goal with 13.7 seconds left in third period on Allan McPherson’s ninth of the season. After a pair of penalties resulted in four-on-four action, Clarkson pulled Lewis for the extra attacker. A shot from the point deflected through the slot, where McPherson was able to tip it through Hartzell’s pads to get within one goal.
“We knew even if scored, we’d still have a power play, so we were hoping to score a bit earlier,” Jones said. “We were just trying to flood one side of the ice and see if we could get a scramble in front of their net.
There simply was not enough time left on the clock for another rush, as Quinnipiac quickly cleared the puck out of its end at the final buzzer.