Quinnipiac advances to first Frozen Four

Bryan Lipiner

The Union College fan section passed around a torch pregame. Perhaps a symbol of good luck, or wishful thinking for a second-consecutive Dutchmen Frozen Four appearance.

But the 2012 and 2013 ECAC tournament champions will not be traveling to Pittsburgh, Pa., on April 11. Instead, playing in its first Frozen Four in program history, the Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey team will take a shot at the national title.

Driven by Matthew Peca’s first-career hat trick, Quinnipiac routed the Dutchmen 5-1 Sunday evening at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, earning themselves a spot in the 2013 Frozen Four. On April 11, the Bobcats will take on St. Cloud State for an opportunity to play for the national championship.

Peca’s natural hat trick was strung together in just 3:12, the quickest natural hat trick in NCAA Tournament history, as well as Quinnipiac’s first natural hat trick since Jeremy Langlois on Oct. 15, 2011.

“It’s huge,” Peca said. “It helped us win. It helped Quinnipiac make it to their first Frozen Four.”

“We were ready to roll,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. “A little sluggish the first couple minutes, we took over from there. Matthew is a big time player for us; he was the best player on the ice tonight.”

Union goaltender Troy Grosenick, who had not allowed more than two goals in each of his previous six games, let through five on the evening, three of which came in the first period.

The victory cements Quinnipiac and Yale in the Frozen Four for the first time in NCAA history, while also placing two ECAC teams in the Frozen Four for the first time since 1983.

“This was a great year for our league,” Pecknold said. “Our league had a ton of non-conference wins that really helped us. Our league is as good as any in the country, top to bottom.”

Peca grabbed his first goal of the evening 9:46 into the first stanza. Connor Jones skated into the slot, flicking the puck off Grosenick’s left pad. Peca then caught Grosenick out of position on the doorstep, firing a shot on net for the 1-0 lead.

Sixty-three seconds later, it was Peca again, this time collecting the puck on a turnover. Peca moved to the top of the far side circle, sniping a shot out for the two-goal advantage.

Peca then notched his third goal off a play on the near side boards, later moving into the slot. The sophomore found an opening and proceeded to backhand the puck for the natural hat trick just 12:58 into regulation.

Following a major penalty and game misconduct assessed to Matt Wilkins for a hit from behind, the Bobcats padded their lead to four. Travis St. Denis hits Jordan Samuels-Thomas with a centering feed from far side circle, before Samuels-Thomas tapped the puck across the crease.

Less than five minutes later, Kellen Jones battled off a pair of Dutchmen defenders on a breakaway. Alone on the forward, Grosenick went for the diving poke check, only to have Jones backhand a shot top shelf for the five-goal advantage.

The lone Union goal came early in the third stanza, when Wayne Simpson connected with Daniel Ciampini from the far side boards. Ciampini then punched the puck past Hartzell in the slot to erase the Quinnipiac shutout.

“Were definitely close [national championship], but we’re still not where we want to be,” Hartzell said. “Our goal is not just to be at the Frozen Four, it’s to win.”