Decisions to stay helped Quinnipiac reach these heights

PITTSBURGH — The phrase “perfect storm” has been used by Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold and several of his players to describe the situation leading up to the program’s first appearance in the national championship game Saturday night.

It’s a fair description. The Bobcats have a veteran defense that has come together at the right time, a breakout year from senior goalie Eric Hartzell, productive newcomers and improvements from underclassman such as Danny Federico and Bryce Van Brabant.

But there was a very real possibility that some of the components of Quinnipiac’s success this year — namely the head coach and their top line — could have left in the offseason.

Pecknold was reported to have looked at Massachusetts’ open coaching spot last summer, but wound up staying in Hamden. And there was some worry that the Bobcats’ top line of Matthew Peca and Connor and Kellen Jones might leave early for the pros.

“I think there are a lot of things in college hockey that head coaches need to be good at,” Pecknold said. “Recruiting is probably the main thing. … I would say retention might be, too. The way the NHL is set up right now with the CBA and everything, if those kids don’t like their coach, they don’t like the school, if you don’t win, it’s really easy to turn pro quickly.”

Fortunately for Quinnipiac, that wasn’t the case. Peca was a seventh-round pick by Tampa Bay in 2011, while Kellen Jones was taken in the same round by Edmonton in 2010. His twin brother Connor is a free agent. All three opted to stay.

“Tampa decides hey, Matthew Peca is ready, and we feel he’s a got a great opportunity, I’ll drive him to the airport,” Pecknold said. “But I think Tampa’s been good. They’re patient, they know he needs to get bigger and stronger, and I’m hoping we get one more year out of him. We’re doing a great job of developing these kids. So the bigger worry is with the free agents. They can go anywhere they want.”

Quinnipiac has never lost a player early to the pros, something Pecknold said other schools have tried to use against the program.

“It’s funny, we had a recruiting battle last year when two schools actually used that against us,” Pecknold said. “They’re like, ‘Quinnipiac doesn’t have kids sign early. You can come here and leave in two years.’ And I turn it around and I’m like, ‘Why don’t they leave?’ And we actually won the battle on those kids. And that’s something that we’re proud of.

“You definitely can’t cater to them, because you’re not going to make them a better hockey player,” Pecknold said. “But you need to be professional, run a good program, and your chances of them staying is much higher.”