Kelly Babstock piled up 203 points in her four years and 147 games at Quinnipiac. No other player wearing a Bobcats jersey has ever hit triple digits in a career. During Babstock’s tenure, her team scored 398 goals, meaning she was directly involved in over half of its offense.
As is the case with any great college athlete, the clock steadily clicks away the years, and all too soon, a program is left to look elsewhere.
“Freshman Taylar Cianfarano has definitely stepped up these past few games,” assistant captain Cydney Roesler said. “I know the whole team is really happy with her performances.”
Five contests into her career, Cianfarano is averaging a goal per game, with three game-winners. It’s not a surprise that she’s finding the net. The Otsego, N.Y., native played in two Under-18 World Championships and led all goal scorers at the 2014 tournament. The surprise is that she’s doing it for Quinnipiac.
To be sure, Cianfarano seriously considered Hamden as a destination when she began the recruiting process.
“Quinnipiac was one of my top three schools,” she said. “I came to visit, and right away, I knew I liked the coaches. Obviously, the facilities were awesome and everyone throughout the campus was just so nice. You felt welcomed, and it was something that I definitely liked about Quinnipiac.”
Nonetheless, Cianfarano picked Wisconsin and signed with the Badgers in November.
“She decided pretty early, so it wasn’t like we had invested a long time,” Quinnipiac coach Rick Seeley said. “She’d been here on a visit, and we loved her as a kid, and obviously, we loved her as a player. But, 90 percent of recruiting is disappointment.”
Fate interceded, and Cianfarano’s plans to attend Wisconsin fell through.
“It was definitely frustrating,” she said. “It just so happened to be that I was one of those girls who had to look back at schools and figure out where I was going, but I’m glad where I ended up.”
So was her new coach when Cianfarano’s status changed in April.
“That was like winning a lottery, because it’s something you don’t expect and it’s long gone, and then all of a sudden what you were hoping for in the first place happens,” Seeley said. “We felt great about it. I think she has fit in here really well. The fact that she’s producing right away certainly helps with that adjustment, and she’s a great kid and a great teammate. We’re very fortunate to have her.”
Cianfarano has found Quinnipiac to be a good fit scholastically as well.
“I just changed my major to business management, also with a minor in sports studies,” she said. “Basically, with my hockey career, I’m hoping to coach as I get out of college. That’s definitely one of my goals.”
Post-graduate life is a long way off for the freshman, so for the immediate future, she’ll be concentrating on goals that involve a puck and a net.
“She has a desire to get better,” Seeley said. “Having the national camp experience this summer was great, because it made her realize how far she has to go, what’s missing in her game. That desire is there every day to improve, so she’s a very coachable kid. Her conditioning has to get better. I think it’s something that’s never hurt her in the past, but she’s realizing at this level, ‘I’ve got to step it up a notch.’ We haven’t even introduced penalty killing to her. We don’t want to wear her out, but that’s certainly a goal of hers and ours, to get her to that point. But her conditioning is a lot better today than it was even two weeks ago.”
She’s recognized other areas where she needs to improve.
“Playing at [National Sports Academy] for three years, I always didn’t have the strongest defense, but going from high school hockey to college hockey, it’s so much harder and so much more competitive,” Cianfarano said.
As anyone who has followed Quinnipiac hockey under Seeley knows, it’s very much about defense for everyone on the ice.
“Every day in practice, it’s one of the things that we always bring up,” Roesler said. “That’s our focus all the time, and I think it’s been really good so far this season, and we just hope to continue with that.”
The defense thus far has been more than good, allowing only one goal on the season.
“I think in the past when we’ve broken down, one breakdown will lead to another, lead to another, which would lead to a goal,” Seeley said. “I think we’re doing a much better job of remaining composed and having someone step in right away and stop the bleeding. No insult to who we have played, but it’s not the Clarksons and Harvards of the world either, that will sustain longer pressure, and that will be a real test for us. It hasn’t mattered who we’ve played in the past. When we’ve broken down, three, four, five times in a row, and usually it’s not the first breakdown that leads to a goal. It’s the ones after it. So I’m really proud of how our kids have responded to any adversity and just kind of put out fires immediately.”
Senior goaltender Chelsea Laden has started four of the five games and has four shutouts to show for her efforts. However, effort may not be right word, because there haven’t been many fires for her to extinguish; she has faced less than 10 shots per game on average.
A trio of junior defensemen is a big reason why.
“They’re all distinctly different defensemen,” Seeley said. “[Roesler] and [Kristen] Tamberg have basically been leading the charge since they’ve got here, and Lindsey West continues to improve, although I wouldn’t say at this point she’s as dominant as those two.”
The quality on the blue line goes beyond the upperclassmen.
“We like our depth there,” Seeley said. “As the freshmen continue to work, I think we’ll be really solid there, as long as we stay away from injuries.”
One never knows when an injury may knock someone out of a game.
“Cyd took a shot off her ankle in the warm-up for Friday’s game against Maine, and we didn’t skip a beat,” Seeley said. “We had Alicia Barry playing, a freshman, and Shannon Cherpak had a few shifts. Tamberg and West definitely stepped up, and [Emma] Greco and [Taryn] Baumgardt have been phenomenal since they got here last year as freshmen.”
Not that he wants to have to have to play without Roesler on a regular basis.
“Having someone like Cyd — she’s just dominant this year,” Seeley said.
The five-foot, nine-inch native of Stittsville, Ontario, uses her size effectively.
“I’m a big player,” Roesler said. “I try to play big. I like to contribute offensively, read the plays and headman the passes sort of thing. One of my focuses is to contribute more offensively, and I think I’ve done that so far this year.”
The Bobcats could use it, because to date, the scoring hasn’t kept pace with the defensive performance. The team currently ranks ninth in scoring average, at only 2.6 goals per game. The power play has yet to find its stride, converting twice, but one of those was into an empty net.
“I think we’re more talented this year,” Seeley said. “I think we have two [power play units] that can work, and they’ve shown glimpses. Two years ago, we had the confidence that every time we stepped on the ice on the power play we were going to score. It’s just getting that confidence. We’re getting looks, but we’re just not finishing. Some of our top shooters just aren’t finishing five on five yet either, so we’re excited about where we might be going when those guys like [Erica] Udén Johansson, [Shiann] Darkangelo, and Emma Woods start producing at the pace they normally do.”
Last season, the power play finished with a 13.6 conversion percentage and never found high gear.
“It’s been a long time since we scored regularly on the power play, so I think they just have to gain that confidence and keep playing with it,” Seeley said. “If I had an answer, we’d be scoring more.”
Additional offense will be vital once November arrives and the No. 7 Bobcats see their first ranked opponent, traveling to No. 5 Cornell. Not that Seeley wants his team thinking about that game yet.
“We preach to the kids that every game is going to be the same,” Seeley said. “We ease up for five minutes against Penn State, and we’re in a tie game.”
That 1-1 tie at Penn State is the only blemish on the ledger, but the teams the Bobcats have seen thus far don’t possess the same firepower as Cornell.
“There’s not much you can do, other than just try and prepare every day like you’re playing one of the best teams in the country, which obviously Cornell is,” Seeley said. “It’ll be a bit of a unique game, because I think we’ll both be losing a player or two for Four Nations, and they might be losing a coach, too. Colgate is always tough for us on the road, so that test the night before certainly won’t hurt us. It’s what my teams have always done, they try and play hard. But if you’re not seeing the same things, it’ll be a bit of a shock when a Brianne Jenner starts flying down the boards. You just hope you adjust within five, 10 minutes, and then you realize what college hockey is really like at the highest level.”
Roesler has already experienced those high-level games.
“It definitely makes for a fun hockey game,” she said. “You know you’re playing some of the best in the conference, in the country. It’s pretty fun to look forward to. It’s going to be a challenge, that’s for sure, but we’re ready for it.”
The preparation includes working hard on less glamorous facets of the game, like defensive back pressure.
“That’s big for us, and that’s an easy thing,” Seeley said. “It’s a really fine line. If you’re not working that hard, then all of a sudden, anyone can score with you. If you don’t utilize your speed, then you’re just equalizing things for the opponent.”
The labor could pay off for a team still seeking its first title.
“Our main goal is to win [the] ECAC Championship, and I think it’s very attainable,” Roesler said. “If we keep working hard and we keep focusing on the details like we’ve been doing, it’s something that we’re striving for and I think it’s definitely something we can reach.”