This Week in ECAC Hockey: Struggling Quinnipiac hoping passionate play emerges down the stretch

 (Melissa Wade)
Quinnipiac, despite scenes like this, may wind up this season with a losing record for the first time in nearly 25 years (photo: Melissa Wade).
For one weekend at least, Quinnipiac looked liked its old self.One of the more consistent contenders in ECAC Hockey over the last several years, the Bobcats entered the final month of the regular season on pace for the program’s first losing record since 1995-96 when Quinnipiac was a Division II independent during Rand Pecknold’s second year as coach.After what Pecknold deemed an “embarrassing” loss Tuesday against Princeton, the Bobcats took down then-No. 3 Clarkson 4-1 Friday and beat St. Lawrence 5-2 on Saturday.“It was a tough test for us and I thought we played really well,” Pecknold said of Friday’s win against the Golden Knights. “We didn’t play perfect, but the battle level was excellent. I think probably the biggest thing was the care and the passion; guys were really excited to play top-five team in the nation. If we can bottle that and do that every night, we’re going to be a better hockey team.”On Saturday, the Bobcats (11-13-4, 6-8-2) trailed early against St. Lawrence but scored five unanswered goals to en route to a 5-2 win.“I liked our demeanor on the bench when we went down 1-0,” Pecknold said. “I thought there was no panic. We handled adversity really well tonight — it’s been an issue this year.”Last season was the first time since 2011-12 that the Bobcats did not make the NCAA tournament – a “down” year that included 23 wins and a trip to the league semifinals. But that is a team that has upperclassmen who played in the national championship two years ago against North Dakota.“It brings back so many great memories of teams my freshmen and sophomore year and you know you were going to go out and be confident in the way you play,” junior captain Chase Priskie said. “Getting rewarded for that is an awesome feeling. It’s hard to describe.”But this team simply doesn’t have the depth or top-line scoring of past Quinnipiac teams. The Bobcats are averaging just over two and a half goals per game.QU lacks an elite playmaker or goal scorer in the mold of a Matthew Peca or Sam Anas, although freshman Odeen Tufto is averaging over a point per game, while sophomore Alex Whelan has 13 goals.Still, Quinnipiac showed some signs this weekend of play the right way, something that could have a big impact down the stretch run. The Bobcats are currently in eighth place, the last home ice spot for the playoff, and host Princeton and Yale this weekend. The Tigers are a point ahead of Quinnipiac in the standings, while the Bulldogs are a point behind the Bobcats.“I think we just have to look at what we did well [Friday],” Pecknold said. “It’s passion. I use the phrase ‘you can’t fake passion’ and we had it tonight. If we’re going to have that kind of passion, we’ll win a lot of games. “

League down on the national stage

Quinnipiac’s struggles this year mirror the conference as a whole.While Cornell and Clarkson have been among the best teams in the country for much of the season, no other league team is currently included in the top 16 of the PairWise rankings. Harvard (25th) and Union (27th) are the next highest ranked teams following the Big Red and Golden Knights.If that pattern holds, it would be the first time since 2012 that the league has placed less than three teams in the NCAA tournament.ECAC Hockey simply hasn’t been very good in out-of-conference play. It currently has a 38-50-15 nonconference record, a mark that is only better than Atlantic Hockey and the WCHA. The league went 45-49-11 last year in nonconference play and 56-42-10 in 2015-16.As a result, only four teams – Cornell, Clarkson, Union and Harvard – currently have winning overall records, although Colgate, Yale, and Princeton are all .500 overall. If that holds, it would be the lowest number of league teams with an overall winning record since 2011-12, when five teams finished with an overall winning record.However, it’ s worth noting that any wins in the league playoffs are added to a team’s overall record, so teams at or near .500 could eclipse that mark with a deep postseason run.

Clarkson, Cornell both looking to get back on track

The depth of the league might not be the same as in past seasons, but there’s still no given wins.Just ask Cornell, who ascended to No. 1 in the poll for the first time since 2003 last week, but lost Saturday to a Rensselaer team that entered last weekend with two wins over the last two months.That loss snapped an eleven-game unbeaten streak for the Big Red, who dropped to third in this week’s poll.Cornell will travel to Clarkson on Friday. The Golden Knights were swept on the road last weekend and are 1-3-2 since their fourteen-game winning streak came to an end on Jan. 19.

Around the league

• It took Yale two overtimes to sweep Arizona State this weekend at Ingalls Rink, but the Bulldogs certainly weren’t lacking in chances. Yale outshot the Sun Devils 47-25 Friday and 56-27 Saturday.“Average players get frustrated, elite players get determined,” Yale coach Keith Allain said following Friday’s game, when the Bulldogs had 24 shots on goal in the first period but did not score a goal.Saturday was also the last game for Allain before he headed to South Korea for the Winter Olympics as a member of the coaching staff for Team USA.• Harvard won’t have a chance to defend its Beanpot title this season. The Crimson lost 3-2 to Boston University in double overtime Monday night in the opening round of the tournament. It was the last game before the Olympics for junior forward Ryan Donato, who leads the country with 21 goals.• Cornell freshman goalie Matthew Galajda was named the Hockey Commissioners’ Association National Division I Rookie of the Month for January. He had a .973 save percentage and four shutouts in the month, including a shutout streak of 227:11.• The league’s weekly awards went to Princeton’s Ryan Kuffner (player), Rensselaer’s Linden Marshall (rookie) and Union’s Jake Kupsky (goalie). Kuffner had six goals in wins against Quinnipiac, St. Lawrence and Clarkson and is among the national leaders with 19 goals this year.