PITTSBURGH — For the first time in 24 years, the national champion will hail from ECAC Hockey.
Thanks to a dominating 4-1 victory over St. Cloud State in Thursday’s second national semifinal at Consol Energy Center, the Quinnipiac Bobcats are heading to the national title game.
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It is the first time that an ECAC team has reached the final since Colgate in 1990 and the winner will become the first team ECAC team since Harvard in 1989 to win the title. It’s also the first time since 1978, when Boston College and Boston University squared off in the final, that two ECAC teams reached the finals. BC and BU moved to Hockey East in 1984.
“I think it’s phenomenal for our league,” Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said. “I think the ECAC was one of the best, if not the best league in the country this year. Top to bottom, we’re as good
That was certainly the case on Thursday night as the Bobcats followed up a dominating on-ice performance by Yale with one of their own. Quinnipiac came out of the gate with more jump than St. Cloud State and, as a result, put the game away early, scoring three times in the first 11:19 to take a lot of wind out of St. Cloud State’s sails.
Pecknold said he was actually happy that the Lowell-Yale game went to overtime. He said that in his pregame speech at 6:10 p.m., he specifically addressed the possibility of a delayed start. The game started about 45 minutes late.
“I probably told the team four times this week [about the possibility of overtime],” Pecknold said. “We’re a veteran team. I’m not saying it was a pivotal moment, but I thought it was a pivotal moment for us to be prepared for [overtime].”
The Bobcats’ early domination came in many facets but most notable was goaltending. While Quinnipiac netminder Eric Hartzell (33 saves) stopped all 13 shots he faced in the first period, his counterpart, Huskies goaltender Ryan Faragher (24 saves), struggled. He allowed goals on two of the first three shots he faced and three on nine shots in the period.
The first tally came seven seconds after the Bobcats went on the power play as Jordan Samuels-Thomas netted his 17th goal of the season. Attempting a wraparound, Samuels-Thomas banked the puck off Faragher’s skate and into the net at 1:49.
Just over three minutes later, Samuels-Thomas again attempted a wraparound only to have the puck bounce off a St. Cloud State defender and right to Quinnipiac’s Ben Arnt. He caught Faragher off guard, poking the puck over his blocker for a 2-0 lead.
The Huskies nearly got back within a goal on the power play. Hobey Baker Award Hat Trick finalist Drew LeBlanc rifled a wrist shot from the right faceoff dot, only to watch the puck clang off the right post at 11:04.
Quinnipiac immediately shifted momentum as Jeremy Langlois scored just 15 seconds later. Coming out of the penalty box, Langlois drove the net ahead of LeBlanc and buried the rebound of Zach Davies’ shot at 11:19 for a 3-0 lead.
“I think we’d do anything to replay those first 11 minutes,” St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said. “That’s probably the end of the story.”
The Huskies looked to have some life in the second when Joey Benik tucked home a cross-seam pass from Cory Thorson at 6:25.
But a Huskies defensive lapse at 14:31 gave the Bobcats back their three-goal cushion. Speedy Kellen Jones caught Andrew Prochno flat-footed and moved around him, lifting a shot over the outstretched right legs of Faragher to make it 4-1.
That was essentially the final straw for the Huskies as they simply couldn’t find a way to solve Hartzell, who on Friday will find out if he is the third goaltender to win the Hobey Baker Award.
The loss ended a spectacular season for the Huskies in which they won their first WCHA regular season crown in their final year in the league before moving to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
Quinnipiac can focus on the possibility of bringing a national championship back to Hamden, Conn. If the Bobcats do, they’ll have to knock off their down-the-road rival for the fourth time this season.
The game is a rematch of the ECAC consolation game played three weekends ago in Atlantic City, N.J., a game Quinnipiac won 3-0. Pecknold knows his team will not be facing the same Yale team.
“They have some new jam, they’re competing hard, they’re doing some things,” Pecknold said. “They have some players that are on a different level than they were three or four weeks ago.”