When any hockey team has a 21-day long layoff, there is always concern as to whether or not that team will show signs of rust in its first game back.
That was the case for the Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey team on Saturday. Fortunately for Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold and his squad, they managed to squeeze out a win thanks to Jordan Samuels-Thomas’ game-winning goal 3:47 into the final period. Strong defense down the stretch gave Quinnipiac (12-3-2, 8-0 ECAC) the victory over Nebraska-Omaha in a back-and-forth contest by the final score of 5-4 at the High Point Solutions Arena at the TD Bank Sports Center.
After Nebraska-Omaha tied the game at four to start the third period, the Bobcats retook the lead three minutes later. Samuels- Thomas scored his second goal of the day from Peca to give the home team the advantage 5-4. Thomas had three points on the day, giving him 10 on the season.
“The goal was definitely big,” Samuels-Thomas said. “Before the third period coach just told us we needed to be ready to go out and compete. Tonight certainly wasn’t our prettiest win, but I thought it was a testament to our team working hard and playing well.”
Quinnipiac did not surrender the lead for the rest of the game as senior goalie Eric Hartzell made nine third period saves to seal the win. Before today’s contest Hartzell was second in the nation, and first in the ECAC in goals-against-average allowing only 1.29 goals-per-game.
“We’re ecstatic to win the hockey game,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. “However, I thought this was the worst game we played all year. The three-week layoff didn’t help. We were pretty sloppy, but the guys showed character and we found a way to win.”
The Bobcats first goal came at 1:54 into the first period, when Connor Jones crossed to Jordan Samuels-Thomas for the one timer which gave his team a lead that they wouldn’t surrender throughout the rest of the game.
Only 1:44 later, Matthew Peca doubled Quinnipiac’s lead with a 1-on-1 goal, assist credited to Jeremy Langlois.
“The first seven or eight minutes all four lines were going pretty well, and we got up two pretty quickly,” Samuels-Thomas said. “After that, unfortunately, we got into a track meet with them, which was exactly what they wanted.”
Nebraska-Omaha’s powerful offense, which came into the game second in the nation with 3.61 goals-per-game, answered back less than two minutes into the second period with a breakaway goal from Matt White. White was assisted by junior Johnnie Searfoss.
Quinnipiac extended their lead to two goals quickly, however, when Ben Arnt netted his third goal of the season from Samuels-Thomas with 14:14 left in the second period.
Yet, back came the powerful offense of the Mavericks once again, and only seven minutes later the game was tied. With 12:27 left in the second period Searfoss scored an unassisted power play goal to cut the lead to 3- 2. Then, with 7:15 left in the same period, Brian O’Rourke netted a goal from Tanner Lane to make it even.
The Bobcats then retook the lead for the third time in the game. With 1:06 left before the second intermission. Kevin Bui notched his first goal of the season on a one-timer from Kellen Jones to give Quinnipiac the 4-3 advantage.
Nebraska-Omaha had an answer, though, which came in the form of the nation’s second leading scorer. Junior forward Ryan Walters tied the game up again 38 seconds into the game’s final 20 minutes, his 11th goal and 27th point of the year.
Before the second half of the season began today, the Bobcats ranked No. 9 in the nation for consecutive weeks. This is the team’s highest mark since December of 2009-10. The win also extended their unbeaten streak to 11, which ties the program record.
The Bobcats and the Mavericks square off again tomorrow in Hamden at 12 p.m., and Pecknold knows his team needs to be much better.
“Our defense is really a good offense, possessing the puck and being physical down low,” Pecknold said. “That’s how we have played defense successfully all year, and we didn’t do that tonight. We were very sluggish, and we have to come back and be better tomorrow.”