Lahey: ‘Sports is a huge deal’

Quinnipiac President John Lahey remembers the early days of Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey. He remembers the times when the team would play games in the town of Hamden. He remembers when practices would be at 1 or 2 a.m. just because those were the only available times. He remembers the Northford Ice Pavilion.

Now, he knows the national attention this team has received.

“This is a pretty big deal … I came to Quinnipiac with some big dreams and plans for the university, including moving us to Division I athletics,” Lahey said. “I can tell you, I did not have in those plans, written down, that we would be the No. 1 ranked team in the country in any sport, let alone ice hockey, one of the major three or four sports in the country.”

[media-credit id=1459 align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]Head coach Rand Pecknold has led the Bobcats on an unprecedented run of 21 consecutive games without a loss, dating all the way back to Nov. 6. The run has propelled Quinnipiac from being unranked in the poll to the top of that and the PairWise Rankings, which help determine the NCAA bracket in March.

“It’s more than impressive, that only in our 15th year in Division I, that we’re the number one team in the country,” Pecknold said.

But Pecknold knows that being on top of the polls now isn’t going to get them where they want to be: in the Frozen Four come April.

“For us as players and coaches, we’re gonna enjoy it for about 15 minutes,” Pecknold said. “We got to get back to business.”

Quinnipiac is 18-0-3 in its past 21 games and leads the ECAC Hockey conference by 11 points over second-place Yale, who the Bobcats beat 6-2 on Feb. 2. Quinnipiac has already clinched a first-round bye in the conference playoffs.

“It’s a great day for the program, and Quinnipiac,” senior forward Kevin Bui said. “We’re all very humble guys in that room, and there’s a lot of work left to do. Right now, our main focus is locking up first place.”

Being the top-ranked team is unchartered territory for the Bobcats. Three years ago, the team started the year 12-1 and was ranked No. 4 in the country. But immediately after, the team went 1-11-2 over its next 14 games.

But that’s not on Pecknold’s mind at all. He knows this is a different team with a lot more depth from top to bottom. This year’s team ranks second in the country in goals allowed. In the past 21 games, the Bobcats have averaged 3.4 goals per game while allowing 1.4 goals per game.

This weekend, Quinnipiac hosts St. Lawrence, a squad boasting the top scorer in the nation, Greg Carey, who has recorded 20 goals and 42 points to his credit. The Saints also feature forward Kyle Flanagan, who is currently sixth in the country in points with 38.

“We’re No. 1 in PairWise, which is more important than the coaches’ poll,” assistant captain Cory Hibbeler said. “Being No. 2, it kind of gave us something to go for. We still have to prove ourselves night-in and night-out.”

Before Quinnipiac beat then-No. 8 Yale, 6-2, on the road, the Bobcats tied Brown 1-1 the night before. Although Minnesota was idle, it still garnered the top spot in the polls, while Quinnipiac sat in No. 2 for the third straight week.

After Minnesota split a weekend series with St. Cloud State, there was almost no doubt Quinnipiac would move up to No. 1. Forty-one of the 50 voters in the poll thought Quinnipiac was the best team in the nation.

Pecknold said he tries to get his players not to look at the polls and all the media attention. He knows that being No. 1 right now isn’t good enough; he wants to be No. 1 at the end of the year.

“Sports is a huge deal. For them, maybe it’s just another hockey win in a great season that they’re enjoying,” Lahey said, “but for the university, to be ranked No. 1 in the nation in a major sport like hockey is an enormous benefit for the university.”