There have been some adjustment and bumps in the road in the early part of this season for the Quinnipiac Bobcats, as they graduated what coach Cassie Turner called “six pivotal seniors.” But even with a few stumbles early on, the Bobcats are currently ranked eighth in the country and third in the ECAC as they close out the opening third of the season.Last season, the Bobcats took a new approach to the schedule. They started breaking the season into thirds — a period each — to help keep the long season in perspective and also to help the team focus on specific goals and building toward the end of the season. Though she wouldn’t get specific, she said the team chooses to track different stats and that allows them not only to have ownership about how they’re playing, but also about what they’re looking to accomplish and the style of play they have.She did say that the stats are all Bobcat-focused and that helps the players concentrate on the things they can control. It keeps them from getting too ahead of themselves and reminds them to focus on who they are as a team.Despite their near permanent presence in the polls the past few seasons, we’re just two seasons removed from Quinnipiac’s first-ever NCAA tournament appearance. It’s probably not fair to characterize it as a turn-around, but it certainly is an incredible amount of growth for the Bobcats in a short period of time.There are subtle differences and nuances that come with being a perpetual top-10 team. Though Turner said they don’t prepare for any teams differently, the entire approach — and tenor — to a season changes when you’re a leader, not a follower.Perhaps the most obvious difference is that opponents do not take the Bobcats lightly. In order for other teams to succeed, they need to upend Quinnipiac.”You have to understand what’s happened in the past, what we’ve achieved, because that does affect how people come prepared to play us,” said Turner. “Every team that comes to play us is going to bring their best effort. We’ve talked about that really being a privilege for our team and being excited about that. Regardless of the opponent, we need to be ready and we need to be ready for everyone’s best game.”Being at the top also means better recruits, more skilled players, and more attention. Where in year’s past Turner may have had to focus her coaching more on skills, lines, or systems, now the way she and her staff coach can be much more focused and detailed.”When you win it starts to breed itself in a lot of ways,” she said. “There’s a lot of things you now don’t need to talk about as a coach. To me I think it’s a privilege and where I think a program like ours should be. When you feel like you know everything you need to know, then now you’re in a position that you can execute a little more freely.”The Bobcats played in 14 games last season decided by just one goal, as well as tallying five ties. That is where Turner sees the detail work become important — and necessary.”The hope is that we build all year; the hope is for us to be really detailed early in the year and build good habits so when you’re in those one-goal games you are confident you can make plays because you’ve thought about it and now you’re in a position where you are executing it without thinking,” she said.It’s a minor distinction, but one that can lead to huge amounts of success.Thinking that way was something Turner said she had to learn. She said she did so as a part of Hockey Canada. Whereas the college season is long and can be a grind, in international play, there’s only ever a handful of games in which to make an impact and come out on top. It amplifies each play and each mistake and Turner said it helped her understand how the smallest things can make a game or series or tournament.In year’s past, Quinnipiac was known for its smothering defense. They hold the puck and limit the amount of shots the opponent is able to take. Turner still says they are a defense-first team, but she has also actively recruited goal scorers in the past few years to help change the reputation and makeup of the team. She described the Bobcats as relentless, putting pressure on opponents, smothering the puck and forechecking hard to disrupt plays. If they’re playing their best, they are possessing the puck and getting a high volume of first- and second-chances at the net.It’s another change a team has the luxury of making when they’re leading the pack as opposed to trying to catch up.”It certainly is a balance for us. No question, we want to be one of the hardest teams to play against. We talk about that all the time — what goes into that and the details our players will have to execute to be sure that we are that hard-to-play-against hockey team. It’s something we take a lot of pride in.”So the Bobcats will look at the first period of their season, so to speak, and find places for improvement and places to build upon. They head into the second period of the season looking for more wins and a path to the postseason, and to continue to be a program of prominence for seasons to come.
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