Peca’s trifecta gives Quinnipiac a flying start en route to Frozen Four

It wouldn’t be a gross overstatement to say that Matt Peca beat Union in the NCAA East Regional final.

In three minutes and 12 seconds — between the 9:46 and 12:58 marks of the first period — the 5-foot-9 sophomore belittled, beat and buried the Dutchmen, notching the fastest hat trick in NCAA tournament history.

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“Peca basically won the game in the first period,” Union coach Rick Bennett said.

The first goal was a flying circus, as players from each team went airborne in front of Union goalie Troy Grosenick in an effort to get the puck but avoid each other.

“The puck was bouncing around, and Connor [Jones] made it look like he was going to shoot,” Peca said. “It was a great play by him, and basically gave me an open net. I was lucky to get my stick on it.”

The second goal was a snipe off a brutal defensive turnover.

“I noticed [Grosenick] was a little bit off his angle, so I just noticed it and shot it as soon as I could and it caught him off-guard,” Peca said.

The third was a fight out of the corner and a dive into history.

“The puck came around the boards, and I tried to keep it in with my knee,” Peca said. “It just bounced right to my stick — pretty lucky, I don’t know how it happened — and I almost panicked with it. I was looking for Connor back door, but it wasn’t there, so I just threw a backhander on net.”

The production wasn’t even over — Peca had the lone assist on Kellen Jones’ second-period goal. The three strikes didn’t only constitute the first hat trick of Peca’s collegiate career; Sunday night also marked his first multi-goal game and matched his career high for points.

“He was the best player on the ice tonight,” Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said.

He was one of the best in Saturday’s first-round game against Canisius as well, scoring a pro-grade goal in the third period to spur the Bobcats’ comeback.

“Every time you come off a game with a goal, you have a little more confidence,” Peca said. “You’ve just got to take the ball and run with it as fast as you can.”

Senior goaltender Eric Hartzell, a regular in Quinnipiac’s 2013 spotlight, was pleased with Peca’s outburst but not surprised.

“He forechecks, he backchecks, he hits, he’s a complete hockey player,” said Hartzell, a Hobey Baker Award finalist.

Peca, a native of Petawawa, Ontario, took his newfound fame in stride.

“It’s huge. It helped Quinnipiac get to its first Frozen Four,” he said. “I think that’s all I can take out of it.”