No 1 vs. No 13. Quinnipiac. Yale. Two schools separated by less than 15 miles are looking for the upper hand this Friday night when the Bobcats and the Bulldogs battle it out for the second time this season.
This time is the 11th anniversary of the annual Heroes Hat game.
It is the most anticipated game of the year for all of Quinnipiac athletics. Although Yale’s bigger rivalries can be considered Harvard or Dartmouth, the No. 1 ranking in the Bobcats’ hands makes it all the more intriguing.
The Bobcats realize they must not get too hyped up or they could be in trouble.
“We just have to play with emotion and control our emotions at the same time and play with passion because it’s a rivalry game obviously,” sophomore forward Matthew Peca said. “We just have to play with a lot of intensity and we should be fine.”
In 2010, Yale was No. 8 in the country for the Heroes Hat game. Both teams come into Friday’s game ranked in this week’s USCHO.com poll and Quinnipiac will set the new mark with the No. 1 ranking heading into the Heroes Hat Game (22-4-4, 15-1-2 ECAC Hockey). Yale comes into the game at No. 13 (13-9-3, 9-8-1).
Yale hasn’t been playing as hot as the Bobcats, who have been beaten just once in their last 22 games.
“It sucks to lose and it hadn’t happened in a long time. It kind of made us remember how it felt, and maybe at the end of the day, one of the better things that could’ve happened to us this year,” Peca said. “Losing at not so much of an inopportune time made ourselves look in the mirror and know that we still have a lot of work to do.”
Yale was sitting pretty after a 4-2 win over Princeton on Feb. 1, the night starting goaltender Jeff Malcolm got injured. Previously, it had a five-game unbeaten streak, were No. 5 in the Pairwise, No. 8 in the national polls, and in sole possession of second in the conference.
The Bulldogs have now lost five of their last six and are tied for fourth with 19 points. Since Malcolm went out after the Princeton game, the Bulldogs have been reeling, going 0-4 and falling to fifth in the conference. Senior Nick Maricic and sophomore Connor Wilson have split time between the pipes since Malcolm’s injury.
With that being said, this game is also crucial for the conference standings. Quinnipiac leads the conference with 32 points and has also clinched the regular season title. The Bulldogs sit in a tie for fifth place, just two points ahead of eighth-place Princeton.
The War for Whitney Ave. began in 2005-06 after Quinnipiac left Atlantic Hockey to join ECAC Hockey. The Heroes Hat previously featured UConn and Quinnipiac, but because of the switch in conferences, the Bulldogs replaced the Huskies.
Quinnipiac and Yale have met 15 times with the Bobcats posting a 8-5-2 record all-time.
One of Quinnipiac’s road wins was a 6-2 beatdown on Feb. 2 at Ingalls Rink. Quinnipiac improved to 9-0-0 on the year against opponents ranked in the USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll at that time.
“It’s doing what we do well,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. “Just competing and playing defense. Our system has worked all year and our guys buy into it, they know it works and we don’t need to veer off the course, whether we’re playing a first place team or a last place team. It works and we just stay the course.”
It was the Bulldogs who struck early in the first meeting when Trent Ruffolo and Stu Wilson scored two power-play goals just seven minutes into the game. The Bobcats dominated the contest from then on.
“We have to control our emotions and not take penalties,” Peca said. “That was huge against them last game and we gave them two great opportunities early on, and we want to eliminate penalties.”
Six different players scored while three turned in multiple-point nights. Zach Davies had a goal and an assist while Jeremy Langlois and Dan Federico had two assists apiece. Eric Hartzell stopped 30 shots in net. The Bobcats know they can’t get overly hyped or they could be facing the same deficit again.
“We can’t get too excited,” Peca said. “Don’t grip sticks and make simple plays early on. The crowd will be really good. Don’t overdo things and make cute plays and keep things simple and that will contribute to offense.”
The Bobcats lead the ECAC with a 90.8 percent penalty kill, which has helped Quinnipiac’s defense as it has allowed more than two goals in a game just once since Nov. 1, 2012, when the Bobcats allowed four in a 5-4 win over Nebraska-Omaha on Dec. 29.
The Bobcats’ defense will have to slow down Yale’s top line of Kenny Agostino (12 goals, 16 assists, 28 points), Andrew Miller (12-13-25) and Antoine Laganiere (12-12-24).
“I think it’s just simple plays and we run our rotations and our defensive zone coverage well enough that we are ready for any type of forward line and any type of skill,” Peca said. “We just have to put sticks on pucks and cover guys and we’ll be alright.”
“They have great high-end forwards,” Pecknold said. “We have to limit their shots and block shots and win the battles. They all have a really good chance to play in the NHL or at least the AHL and are NHL caliber players. Yale is deep and they are in my opinion a top-10 team.”
Jesse Root, Wilson and Ruffolo are the only current Yale players with a goal against Quinnipiac, though Miller and Agostino each have three assists.
Jeremy Langlois leads 12 Bobcat players with 10 or more points with 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists). Peca (9-10-19), Clay Harvey (4-12-16) and Jordan Samuels-Thomas (9-7-16) round out the Bobcats top four points leaders. Peca and Connor Jones both lead the Bobcats with four game-winning goals. Mike Dalhuisen leads all defensemen with 13 points (8-5-13) and a plus/minus of +18.
The Bulldogs are 6-1-2 overall this season against teams with national rankings the week of the game. Their last win against a No. 1-ranked team was a 3-1 win on Jan. 31, 1989, against Harvard.
“We are going to have our hands full and we’ll be ready to play,” Pecknold said.
“It’s a game that you get up for more than others, and you say that you shouldn’t get up for a game more than another, that every game is the same, but we approach it [with] a little more pride. We do take it to heart,” Peca said.