It’s been quite the year for Rand Pecknold and his Quinnipiac Bobcats.
During the best regular season in program history, the team won the Cleary Cup by a very large margin and is the number one team in the Pairwise rankings. Quinnipiac surprised many in the ECAC despite an eventful off season, in which Pecknold was being courted for the head coaching position vacated by Toot Cahoon at UMass. His decision to stay with the Bobcats certainly looks like the right one at this point.
A 21 game unbeaten run put the Bobcats far ahead of anyone else in the league. In fact the Bobcats clinched the Cleary with five games left to play in the regular season.
Going into the ECAC Tournament, the Bobcats have to be favorites with the number one seed and home ice in the second round. Goaltender Eric Hartzell is easily the top goaltender in the country and hasn’t skipped a beat all year,
“I think he is the best player in our league,” said Pecknold. “He is probably one of the two or three best players in college hockey. He is why we have had the season we’ve had.”
After being unstoppable for most of the season, the Bobcats cane back down to earth a bit with some disappointing results late in its schedule. Going into the final regular season match up against Dartmouth, Quinnipiac was looking to finish strong. They did just that, knocking down Dartmouth 4-1. A strong defensive showing really displayed what made this team a step above the rest in ECAC play this season,
“They are really good team,” said Dartmouth Coach Bob Gaudet. “They’re a veteran team and they really move the puck well with a lot of poise. They should do really well in the NCAA Tournament.”
Following the win over Dartmouth, Hartzell felt that his team is looking past the realization that they are guaranteed an at-large big in the National Tournament and focusing on the ECAC Tournament,
“We’re definitely not thinking that far ahead,” said Hartzell. “I think what we are thinking about is that it is nice to have a bye, so we are going to have two weeks here to get healthy. I think having the bye weekend is going to be really nice for the guys to relax.”
Injuries become even more of a burden during playoff time and weekend could do wonders for many teams. The Bobcats have been lucky enough to stay fairly healthy throughout the season, but won’t be taking it easy during the break.
“The only thing that keeps us going is a championship and a ring on our finger.” stated Hartzell. “We will still probably take two or three hours a day to get ready to go for the playoffs”
With the senior goaltender seemingly destined for professional career, it seems that he wants to go out on top by leading his team in both the ECAC and NCAA tournaments. Hartzell’s 24-4-5 record and 1.49 GAA is good for third in the nation. What makes that even more impressive is that he is sixth in minutes played, as he started all but one game this season for the Bobcats.
Aside from Hartzell, the Bobcats have a stellar neutral zone defense that has ranked first in the nation for most of the season. Pecknold has implemented a system that utilizes the strengths of the team and will continue to be a threat in the playoffs. It is certainly possible that the ECAC will have another team in the Frozen Four this season in Pittsburgh.
My ECAC first round picks:
Brown over Clarkson in 3
Princeton over Cornell in 2
Dartmouth over Harvard in 2
St. Lawrence over Colgate in 3