Uno mas. One more.
That should be the war cry of Quinnipiac as it embarks on its final season in Atlantic Hockey before moving on to the seemingly greener pastures of the ECAC Hockey League.
This is the last chance for the Bobcats to show their value in a league in which, at least for a while, they had an extreme upper hand. This is the chance to fight their way through the league tournament that has ended so many times disappointed.
Most importantly, this is possibly the closest that QU will get to an NCAA tournament for a very long time.
All of that makes this a season of paramount importance for the Bobcats. But according to coach Rand Pecknold, put all of these factors aside and this year is already critical for his successful mid-major program.
“I think it’s an extremely important season regardless of us leaving to go to the ECAC,” said Pecknold. “Last year we did really well in non-conference games and overachieved, but in conference we kind of underachieved. We took third place and we’d never finished anything lower than second. It was a disappointment.
“We’ve got a big class of seniors and these kids as freshmen went to the NCAA tournament. They want to go out with a bang. So truly it’s our disappointment last year that makes us want to win it this year.”
That senior class that Pecknold talks about will most likely be the deciding factor. Led by Matt Craig and Matt Froehlich, Pecknold hopes that his seniors can turn things around offensively from what Pecknold deems a down year.
“Everybody [on our team] had off years [last season], and I don’t really know why,” said a quizzical Pecknold. “All throughout our lineup players seemed to have a year where the puck wasn’t going in the net for them.
“Our power-play production dropped big, too, and some of the freshmen that we brought in should be good power-play kids so that’s an area we think we can improve.”
The freshman class hopes to stabilize a defense that two years ago lost three key players in Wade Winkler, Dan Ennis and Matt Erhart. Pecknold is looking to the three freshman defensemen — Nick Barnych, Dan Lefort, and Matt Sorteberg.
“I like all three freshman defensemen a lot,” Pecknold said. They’re highly-touted kids despite the fact they’re young. That was our biggest weakness last year, we just couldn’t handle that.”
Pecknold’s last line of defense also suffered a loss last year with the graduation of four-year standout Justin Eddy. But returning is probably the best goaltender in the league and possibly one of the best in the country in Jamie Holden.
Holden has split time over the past three years with Eddy, but this year, despite the fact that Pecknold has two other goaltenders in the program, will likely see most of the work himself.
“He can definitely handle the bulk of the work,” said Pecknold. “We’ve been in a situation where we had two great goalies the last few years and that’s a great problem to have. But this is Jamie’s year and it’s his team. He’s done everything that I’ve asked his so it’s kind of his season and he’ll play the bulk of the work.”
That work will include a tough non-league schedule that includes road games against three nationally-ranked teams in Colorado College, Dartmouth and Maine. The Bobcats will also play college hockey’s newest team, Robert Morris. That’s a move that Pecknold made remembering back to the days when he coached an emerging program.
“Seven years ago I remember looking for games and [legendary Maine coach] Shawn Walsh was the only one to give me one,” said Pecknold.” So when [Robert Morris] called and asked I said, ‘Sure, we’ll play you.'”
Seven years and the Bobcats are all grown up. It’s been a long road, but now Pecknold hopes that for one last time, it will be smooth sailing ahead.