With aggressive style, Quinnipiac’s blue line needs no defending

Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold wants to make one thing clear.

The Bobcats’ defense might be the stingiest in the country but there’s nothing passive about the way it plays.

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“I think the common misconception about our defense is that we just sit back and play this prevent defense,” Pecknold said. “We go. We want to be aggressive and possess the puck. We had some games this year where teams got nine or 10 shots on net. You’ve got to have the puck to do that. I think we still play an aggressive, up-tempo offensive style.”

While there’s no Brandon Wong or David Marshall on this year’s Quinnipiac team, the Bobcats’ top line of Matthew Peca and Kellen and Connor Jones has been playing as well as any trio in the country of late. Peca had four goals last weekend in the NCAA East Regional, including a natural hat trick over a span of 3:12 that basically put Sunday’s game away.

But it’s what else those top players are willing to do — namely, block shots — that has resonated through the Bobcats’ lineup.

“We always block shots,” Pecknold said. “And when I’ve got Matthew Peca and Connor and Kellen Jones, the high-end guys, dropping to block shots, everybody does it. That’s what Matthew brings to us more than the offense, is what he does for the rest of the team.”

While he’s done it in the past, Pecknold said he’s never had to bench a player this season for not blocking a shot.

“If a kid shies away from blocking a shot, everybody on the bench sees it, and he knows it,” Pecknold said.”You don’t play if you don’t block shots.”

Still, Quinnipiac did adjust its defensive system several years ago — and it has paid off.

Senior Zach Davies, who was named ECAC Hockey’s top defensive defenseman by the league’s coaches, said the transition took place following his freshman year.

“I think we kind of mastered it this year and we’ve learned how to play it,” Davies said. “Now that we do it well, it’s way easier. We can move the puck up, we don’t have to play as much defense in the zone and we spend a lot more time in the neutral zone and the offensive zone. It’s nice for any defenseman — it’s less stressful.”

Davies said the Bobcats’ up-tempo pace was something a little different from what most players encountered in the past.

“Most of us came from systems where you’d move it across the ice to your [defense] partner and then up,” he said. “So moving it straight back up the ice took a little time to adjust. But I think we’ve kind of been dealing with that mostly last year and the year before when we switched to the new style.”

It’s worked, as a senior-laden defensive corps has been solid all year in front of Hobey Baker Award Hat Trick finalist Eric Hartzell. In addition to Davies, senior captain Zack Currie, and classmates Loren Barron and Mike Dalhuisen have all played in at least 40 games.

“We’re aggressive. We attack,” Pecknold said. “We don’t know the word ‘trap,’ and there are certainly teams that trap now in the NHL. That’s how we play defense, with a good offense and a good forecheck.”