Quinnipiac was in an unfamiliar place to start the ECAC Hockey tournament, but the Bobcats turned in a familiar performance.
The Bobcats blocked shots and controlled play for stretches of time in a sweep of Yale at Ingalls Rink, both of which were trademarks of a program that made four straight NCAA tournament and appeared in two national title games from 2013 to 2016.
“We really hunted the puck,” Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said. “I think that is a trait of Quinnipiac. We keep talking about playing to our identity and we’ll be rewarded.”
The Bobcats also got scoring throughout the lineup in the two games against Yale, as seven different players had a goal against the Bulldogs, including defenseman Kevin McKernan, who returned to the lineup as a forward after missing a month with an injury.
Pecknold said he did not want to disrupt QU’s defensive pairs, and had a hunch that McKernan might provide a spark up front. The senior entered the weekend having played forward once in his collegiate career.
The ninth-seeded Bobcats, who had hosted a playoff series every year since joining ECAC Hockey in 2005, were the only road team to win a series in the opening round of the conference tournament.
Quinnipiac will travel to Cornell this weekend to face the top-seeded Big Red. Dartmouth, Colgate, and Princeton will travel to face Harvard, Clarkson, and Union, respectively.
This is the fifth time in the last 12 seasons that Cornell and Quinnipiac will meet in the conference quarterfinals. The Bobcats have won three of the four previous series between the teams. Each of the last three series has gone to the maximum three games.
“Obviously, we’re not happy with our regular season,” Quinnipiac defenseman Brogan Rafferty said. “The playoffs for us are a new story, and we’re trying to hit the reset button and play Quinnipiac hockey.”
Top line coming up big for Big Green
Dartmouth’s top line of Shane Sellar, Will Graber and Quin Foreman has been an offensive force for the Big Green in the stretch run and into the playoffs.
The trio accounted for four goals in the second-to-last game of the regular season two weeks ago, and at least one of the three players factored into three of the six goals Dartmouth scored in the series against St. Lawrence last weekend.
The three first played together in a 1-0 loss at Denver on Dec. 15, but took some time to get acclimated.
“The first few weeks were a little rough, but it’s slowly picked up,” Foreman said.
However, the group is contributing more than just offense, as they’ve earned the trust of coach Bob Gaudet to play in almost any situation. That’s impressive given that Graber and Sellar are sophomores, and Foreman is a freshman.
On Sunday, Graber won a defensive zone faceoff with six seconds left in regulation and an extra-attacker on the ice for the Saints. Dartmouth won the game 2-1 to end the series.
“When young players are reliable, that gives them ice time,” Gaudet said. “Reliability is playing well in your own zone, not just scoring goals.”
The trio should be counted on again heavily this weekend in the quarterfinals against Harvard. While the Crimson don’t have the scoring depth they did in the past, they still have several dangerous forwards led by junior Ryan Donato, as well as some defensemen who can contribute offensively. Harvard swept the regular-season series against the Big Green.
Tigers on a roll
It was a milestone weekend for Princeton.
Not only did the Tigers sweep Brown to advance to the league quarterfinals for the second season in a row, but several players recorded notable individual achievements as well.
Junior forward Ryan Kuffner reached the 100-point mark for his career in Friday’s win over the Bears. He added his 28th goal of the year the next night, which tied the school single-season record set by former NHL player Jeff Halpern in 1997-98. Linemate Max Véronneau assisted on Kuffner’s goal for his 100th career point.
Both players have over 40 points this season and are among the national offensive leaders despite playing a shortened Ivy League schedule.
“It’s pretty special,” Princeton coach Ron Fogarty said following Saturday’s game. “I had two players that had over 40 points at Bowling Green and I didn’t think I’d see it again on a team. They feed off each other really well. They’ve had the luxury of playing together for a long time, in junior hockey and now in college, so they know each other’s tendencies.”
Princeton outscored Brown 15-3 on the weekend, and has now outscored the Bears 22-5 over the last three meetings between the teams. Incredibly, the Bears blanked the Tigers 3-0 in the first game of the year between the teams back in November.
The two wins on the weekend gave Princeton 15 victories for the second straight season, and assured the Tigers of their first winning record since 2010-11.
With Saturday’s game well in hand, Fogarty put backup senior goalie Ben Halford in and sent out an all-senior power play in the third period.
“It was a senior power play and that was intentional to get Halford in goal and get all the seniors out there for the last shift at Baker,” Fogarty said. “They’ve been a catalyst in turning the program around. For two years they learned the systems and grinded through a lot of one-goal losses and stuck with it and stayed positive, so it was great to see them be rewarded there at the end.”
Save the best for last
Several players recorded important firsts in the opening round of the conference tournament.
On Friday, Princeton defenseman Derek Topatigh’s first goal of the season ended up being the game winner in an 8-2 win over Brown.
On Saturday, St. Lawrence freshman Cade Gleekel scored his first collegiate goal to tie Game 2 of the series against Dartmouth. The Saints won 4-2 to extend the series.
Rensselaer also got contributions from a pair of first-year players on Saturday, as freshman Mat Harris scored his first goal while Linden Marshall made 29 saves for his first collegiate shutout in a 1-0 win over Colgate. The Raiders won the series on Sunday thanks in part to freshman Evan Tschumi, who scored his first collegiate goal early in the third to give Colgate a 2-0 lead.
Around the League
• A pair of Brown seniors signed professional contracts this week. Forward Sam Lafferty signed a two-year entry-level deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins starting in the 2018-19 season and will report to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on an amateur tryout for the remainder of this year. Lafferty was drafted by Pittsburgh in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL draft. Undrafted senior defenseman Josh McArdle signed with the Worcester Railers of the ECHL. The Railers are an affiliate of the New York Islanders.
• The league announced the finalists for two end-of-the year awards this week. Harvard’s John Marino, Cornell’s Alec McCrea, and Clarkson’s Kelly Summers were all named finalists for the league’s best defensive defenseman. Union’s Cole Maier, Clarkson’s Nico Sturm, and Cornell’s Mitch Vanderlaan were named the finalists for the best defensive forward award, as selected by the league’s coaches.
• Kuffner was named the league’s player of the week after totaling three goals and four assists against Brown, while teammate Luke Keenan (rookie) and Colgate’s Colton Point (goalie) were also honored.