Eighteen. That’s the number of freshmen and sophomores that Quinnipiac men’s hockey’s head coach Rand Pecknold and the Quinnipiac Bobcats played with last season. The team struggled at times last season en route to a 16-15-8 season. But the Bobcats have matured in the early part of this season, starting 6-2 and outscoring their opponents 35 to 16.
“Our work ethic has been very consistent,” Pecknold said. “I wouldn’t say we’re perfect, but for the most part I think we’ve played a pretty good 60 minutes every night.”
It helps that the players and coaches are on the same page, as captain Scott Zurevinski sees the same thing.
“We’ve been pretty consistent, which is a good thing,” Zurevinski said. “We’ve struggled with that in the past.”
The start has given the team confidence as conference play approaches, something that Pecknold feels the team lacked last year.
“They’re making plays, they’re finishing their scoring chances,” Pecknold said. “That was an issue last year. We didn’t have a lot of confidence when it came to finishing our plays. This year we’re a little bit older, little bit more mature and the confidence is there.”
But this isn’t the first time the Bobcats have gotten off to hot start. Two years ago the Bobcats started 12-1 and rose to the No. 4 ranking in the country in a USCHO.com poll. But then they crashed, winning only eight more games and finishing the season 20-18-2. This season’s start has brought back the hype and excitement about the team that was seen two seasons ago.
While this year’s team may draw comparisons to the 2009-10 team, “it’s a different team, a different focus,” Pecknold said. “That year we had some seniors who got hot. [Dan Clarke] was real hot during that streak.
“This is a better overall team and probably better suited to handle the length of a season.”
The team, especially the younger players, gained experience last year that is paying off in a huge way offensively. The Bobcats rank fourth in the nation in goals per game, behind powerhouses Minnesota, Michigan, and Boston College.
Unlike the 2009-10 season, underclassmen are leading these Bobcats. The team is getting production from everyone on the ice. The offensive firepower starts with junior Jeremy Langlois. Langlois has started the season on fire, scoring eight goals in eight games, including a natural hat trick Oct. 15 against Canisius College.
But Langlois isn’t doing it alone. He currently plays on a line with Zurevinski and talented freshman Matthew Peca. Since the three were put together, they have recorded 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in five games.
“It’s three very good players. They all have different skills and different strengths,” Pecknold said. “They hunt pucks well. They play well together. Even more than the offense they’re providing right now, all three of them are very good defensively. They’re cleaning up the ‘D’ zone pretty quickly and then we can go and play offense.”
Peca has made a splash in his first season as a Bobcat. The seventh round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning got off to a slow start but has impressed since he started playing with Zurevinski and Langlois. He has recorded at least one point in seven straight games, including three straight games with a goal.
“He was a highly touted, impact type player coming in,” Pecknold said. “We knew he was going to be good but the nice thing is we’ve surrounded him with good players.
“There’s pressure on him, but there’s not a ton of pressure. He realizes that he has two really good linemates that are going to take some pressure off him and help him succeed.”
While the Zurevinksi-Peca-Langlois line has been firing on all cylinders since they were put together, they aren’t the only ones playing well. Sophomore twins Kellen and Connor Jones have also impressed this season, improving upon their freshman campaigns. Connor Jones leads the team with seven assists (10 points total), while Kellen Jones is right behind his brother with eight points.
While the Bobcats have those big offensive weapons, they are getting more production from the rest of their lineup. Senior Spencer Heichman has already tied his career high with four goals, which he did his freshman and junior season. Heichman leads a group of less heralded players who are playing a big role for the Bobcats.
“It’s great that the Langlois line is scoring and Connor’s line is scoring, but we’ve gotten excellent production from our bottom six forwards,” Pecknold said. “If you’re going to get goals from your third and fourth lines, you’re going to win a lot of hockey games.”
With the Bobcats having more offensive depth this year, they have been able to erase one of their infamous stigmas. In past years the Bobcats were known to play down to their opponents. Instead of beating the teams they are expected to, the Bobcats would just squeak out a victory, tie or loss.
But this year things are different. They haven’t just beaten the teams they should beat, the Bobcats have beaten them handily. The Bobcats have scored less than four goals per game just once this season and have wins of 7-0, 6-1 and 4-0.
“Our guys are really committed right now,” Pecknold said “Out of the eight games, we’ve played hard and committed in seven of the eight.
“We’ve been consistent in our work ethic and our competition level and it obviously shows in our record,” Pecknold said.