Disappointment. Probably not the first word that comes to mind after a 22 win season, but that was the feeling of the men’s ice hockey team as they left Tate Rink on Sunday afternoon in West Point, NY.
It was hard for the Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey team to consider their overall season a success after a tight 4-3 loss to Mercyhurst in the MAAC Championship game on Sunday, missing out on their ultimate goal of making back to the NCAA tournament.
The team did accomplish a lot, despite not winning the MAAC tournament and NCAA bid. The team finished their season with more than 20 wins for the fifth consecutive season. With that mark the Bobcats have joined college hockey powerhouses Maine, New Hampshire, Michigan and Michigan State who are the only other Division I programs that have accomplished this feat.
The championship game was one of the most entertaining games in the history of the MAAC playoffs dating back to 1999. Both Quinnipiac and Mercyhurst, coming into Sunday, had won MAAC titles; Mercyhurst in 2001, and Quinnipiac in 2002.
The Bobcats were looking to become not only the first MAAC team to win two MAAC titles, but to do it in back to back seasons.
Quinnipiac got off to a great start. The Bobcats opened the scoring just over six minutes into the game, when Dan Rossi sent a cross ice pass to Dan Ennis who rifled a shot from the right point through traffic on Mercyhurst’s goalie Andy Franck.
Franck, a freshman, made the initial save but had trouble with the rebound as John Kelly pushed his stick under Franck’s pads and in the process pushed the puck into the net. Dan Ennis recorded the assist on the goal and his 99th career point in the process.
The Lakers responded just over two minutes later at the 8:19 mark when they got a blundering bounce off the end boards when Mark Chambers dumped the puck deep into the Bobcat’s end. Quinnipiac goalie Jamie Holden came out of the net to play the puck, but before he could control it, it had deflected off the end boards and directly into the slot. Mercyhurst forward Rich Hansen was in perfect position to make the Bobcats pay. Hansen put the puck into the open net and tied the game at 1-1.
The Bobcats got back on the board and gave themselves the lead again late in the first period at 13:26. As the Bobcat’s dumped the puck into the Lakers end Tim Morrison got to the loose puck first and worked the puck out from behind the Laker net. Morrison found teammate Aaron Ludwig over in the right hand corner. Ludwig used his peripheral vision to feed the puck out in front to a wide-open Chris White. White stymied Mercyhurst goalie Andy Franck; it took less than a second for White to roof the puck over Franck’s right shoulder. White gave the Bobcats the lead 2-1 as the two teams headed into the locker room after the first period of play.
Much like the trend in second half of the regular season, the second period proved to be the downfall for the Bobcats.
The Bobcats allowed 47 goals in the second period this season, which is two less goals than the 49 goals opponents have scored in the first and third periods combined. It took just a minute and 11 seconds for the Lakers to get an opportunistic goal.
Mercyhurst defenseman Mike Muldoon centered the puck in front of the Quinnipiac net. His pass in mid air hit Laker teammate Hansen in front. The puck deflected directly off Hansen’s green pants and into the back of the net. The Lakers again had tied the game, on a sloppy play in front of the Bobcat’s net.
The Lakers used the momentum of their fortunate second goal early in the period to dominate the rest of the period. The Lakers even had an opportunity to take a two-goal lead when Jamie Holden lost his stick for over 30 seconds of play, but the Bobcats defense was up to the task and was able to keep the Lakers from scoring.
The Bobcats struggled to generate offense and any quality scoring opportunities. The Bobcats only had 7 shots in the second period.
Despite the low shot total, Quinnipiac had their chances. Quinnipiac had two power plays in the second period but failed to convert.
“I thought we lost the game in the second period,” said head coach Rand Pecknold. “We had an issue with the second period all season long. I don’t know what it was but it was an issue,” said Pecknold.
Another issue that the Bobcats had was playing in their away road uniforms. Since dawning the new road uniforms the road blues have been meant nothing but the blues for the Bobcats. The team has yet to win a game wearing the dark jerseys. Quinnipiac is 0-7 since sporting the uniforms on January 31 versus the Sacred Heart Pioneers.
The blues continued for the Bobcats when the Lakers struck again when Jamie King dished the puck to Scott Rynolds who fired a shot directly in on Holden, who came out to cut down the angle. The rebound then came loose and Mike Carter swooped in to pick up the puck in front, deeked around Holden and slid the puck in between his legs.
Mercyhurst kept the pressure coming in the second session as they pestered Holden with a total of 14 shots on goal. The Bobcats survived the second session and the Lakers attack down by just a goal heading into the third period.
Mercyhurst coming into Sunday’s game was 14-0 when heading into the third period with the lead, and Sunday afternoon would be no different.
Once again the Bobcats had their chances. It took just 15 seconds into the period for Mercyhurst’s Hansen to be whistled down for a holding penalty. This gave the Bobcats their fourth power play of the afternoon, but like the first three, they just couldn’t convert.
However, after generating momentum on the power play the Bobcat’s did get themselves back on the board when White worked the puck loose and found Ludwig behind the net, who made a sensational pass out into the slot when he hit Morrison in front. Morrison wasted no time and one timed the puck into the back of the net. Morrison practically whacked the puck into the net before Franck could even turn around.
After Morrison’s goal, the game took a turn for the worst for Quinnipiac.
The Bobcats were able to manage an offense attack, but that was all halted when Michael Bordieri was called for holding at 8:21. It took just 24 seconds for the Lakers to lure in the lead for good.
Laker forward Adam Tackaberry worked the puck out by the blue line and cycled it to forward and eventual tournament MVP David Wrigley. Wrigley fired the puck toward the net; T.J Kemp helped on the play as he wristed the puck inside the far post past Jamie Holden who had to see through as much traffic as there usually is on the Merritt Parkway. The Bobcats showed a lot of character, and didn’t put their tails between their legs and run away. The Bobcats put on a strong flurry for the last nine minutes of the game.
The Lakers felt the pressure from the Quinnipiac offense. Most specifically, Mercyhurst’s Peter Rynshoven couldn’t keep up with Craig Falite, as he hauled him down as he skated through the neutral zone. The power play for the Bobcats came with 4:31 to go in the game.
It was apparent just how much the Bobcats missed the team leader in assists Brian Herbert, who was a key man on the power play unit. Herbert injured his shoulder in Quinnipiac’s game versus the University of Connecticut on February 28, and he has been out of the line up since that date.
“He was a huge loss to our team and our power play, and we’ve struggled to get things going without him.” said Pecknold.
Pecknold knew that the team was going to struggle on the power play. Pecknold called a timeout to rest the power play unit and for one last push in regulation. The Bobcats set up a solid power play but still couldn’t crack Andy Franck’s code.
Mercyhurst killed off the Quinnipiac power play, and moved closer to killing any chances that the Bobcat had of coming back. The Lakers were content to ice the puck the rest of the game and that is exactly what they did.
Toward the end of the game the Bobcats were finally able to pull Holden with under 40 seconds to play in the game, but the extra attacker and Bobcats pressure just wasn’t enough to score the game tying goal.
Quinnipiac had one final chance for a desperation goal with a face off in the Mercyhurst end on the right face off circle with just over two seconds left. Matt Craig was able to win the draw back to Dan Ennis, but his shot never got through the traffic in front and only more traffic gathered as the time ticked off the clock the Lakers celebrated their second MAAC title in front of their own net.
After the Lakers collected their MAAC Championship trophy, there was more hardware for the Lakers. The All-Tournament Team was full of Lakers and only one Bobcat. The lone Bobcat was Matt Craig.
Craig had a solid post season and a goal and assist versus Holy Cross in the semi-finals. This was the second year in a row Craig was on the All-Tournament Team. The other four tournament team members were Dave Borrelli, Mike Muldoon, T.J Kemp and goalie, Andy Franck. The MVP of the tournament went to the Laker’s forward Dave Wrigley.
Mercyhurst will move on to NCAA West Regional in Minneapolis, Minnesota versus the Minnesota Golden Gophers, the 2002 NCAA Champions.
The Bobcats end the season will a final record of 22-13-1, and with a chip on their shoulder, after losing to Mercyhurst on Sunday in the championship game.