Just how successful has the Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey team been at the Division I level over the past six seasons? Consider this – the Bobcats finished third in the nine-team Atlantic Hockey conference last season and it still ranked as Quinnipiac’s worst season.
Last year was a disappointing season overall for the Bobcats, who had won at least 20 games and one playoff game in their previous five seasons of Division I hockey. The 1-0 overtime loss to Canisius in the semi-finals of the Atlantic Hockey tournament was an especially stinging way for the Bobcats’ season to end.
“We didn’t accomplish what we had hoped to. We lost in the first round of the playoffs, which was a big disappointment for us,” said Junior Captain Ty Deinema, of Wayzata, Minn., “We’re going to take that into this year, especially in the beginning where we have a lot of emotion coming in these first few games, particularly because of that last game.”
When the Bobcats open the 2004-05 season this weekend with the Quinnipiac Cup tournament, they will begin their final season in Atlantic Hockey. Next season, Quinnipiac will play in the ECAC, a tougher conference that is home to the Ivy League schools, including Yale.
With the move to the ECAC, this season will likely be Quinnipiac’s best chance to get back to NCAA tournament in the next few years. It will also be the final chance for the seniors who helped lead the team to its first and only NCAA tournament appearance as freshmen in 2002.
“I strongly believe that this year we have the best talent, camaraderie, and team as individuals that this school has ever seen before,” Deinema said. “I think with the squad we have and the coaching, we have a great opportunity.”
Despite losing netminder Justin Eddy to graduation, goaltending should be a position of strength again this season for the Bobcats. Senior Jamie Holden, of Telkwa, British Columbia, returns after an impressive junior campaign that saw him post a league-best: 1.91 goals against average and .942 save percentage in conference play.
To replace Eddy, the Bobcats have brought in junior Josh Siembida, of Porcupine, Ontario, and freshman Brian Papcun, of Armada, Mich. Siembida played two seasons at the University of North Dakota before leaving to play junior hockey last year. Papcun has spent the past two years playing junior hockey with Des Moines.
Quinnipiac’s defense was another strong point last season and helped keep the Bobcats’ team goals against average at a program-best 2.47. Sophomore Reid Cashman, of Red Wing, Minn., is back after an impressive freshman year in which he earned Second-Team All-Atlantic Hockey honors and finished first on the team in assists with 19 overall.
Tom Watkins, of Monument, CO, is the only senior on the Bobcats’ blue line, which will feature three freshmen in addition to two juniors and two sophomores. Like goaltending, the Bobcats’ defense should be as solid – if not better – than last season.
If the Bobcats hope to improve upon last season’s 15-14-6 record, they will have to find a way to score more goals. Offense was Quinnipiac’s biggest weakness as the team dropped from 139 goals in 2002-2003 to 87 last season. Senior Matt Craig, of London, ON, led the Bobcats in scoring last year with 13 goals and 25 points. That was a sharp drop-off from the 41 points he recorded the previous year, when six players finished with 27 points or more.
“Last year, we had the offense, but some of our big-time guys just didn’t do it,” Deinema said. “I think we have a totally different mentality this season and you’re going to see that on the ice.”
In addition to Craig, the Bobcats will look for seniors Matt Froehlich, of Apple Valley, MN, and Craig White, of Santa Ana, CA, to get back to the production levels they had during their sophomore seasons. If the Bobcats can solve their offensive woes from last season, they will have a solid all-around team that should have no problems competing for a league title, which is the team’s goal.
The Bobcats begin the 2004-2005 campaign on Friday with the ninth annual Quinnipiac Cup when they host American International College at 7:00 p.m. The winner of that game plays the winner of the Air Force/Bentley game on Saturday at 7:00 p.m., while the losers square off in Saturday afternoon’s consolation game. All games will be played at the Northford Ice Pavilion, where the Bobcats went 10-1-3 last season.