The Atlantic Hockey championship tournament officially kicks off in a couple weeks, but for the Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey team, postseason hockey has already arrived. With just six points separating the top six teams in the conference, every game and every point down the final stretch becomes critical.
Last weekend, the Bobcats [11-6-2 in Atlantic Hockey] split a two game series, losing 2-1 on Friday before an 8-1 thrashing of Canisius College on Saturday at the Northford Ice Pavilion. Quinnipiac is in fourth place with 24 points, but has a game in hand on the three teams that it trails.
Unlike last season, when the entire tournament was played at Army’s rink in West Point, N.Y., home ice advantage is at stake. The regular season champion is guaranteed to have home ice advantage throughout the entire tournament, while the top four teams will at least play the opening game of the tournament at home.
“The league is really strong this year all the way through,” Head coach Rand Pecknold said. “We’re trying to finish in the top three and we want to keep playing well to get ready for the playoffs.”
The Bobcats played a nearly flawless game on Saturday. One night after Canisius goaltender Bryan Worosz stumped Quinnipiac with a 40-save performance, the Bobcats torched him for six goals in two periods.
Every aspect of the Bobcats’ game excelled. The power play clicked at 75 percent, the league’s best penalty kill was perfect, and goaltenders Jamie Holden and Josh Siembida combined to stop the final 30 shots from Canisius.
“There were very few mistakes and I was really happy with our performance,” Pecknold said. “The guys were hungry and fired up. That’s what we want.”
After Canisius scored on its first shot of the night, the Bobcats evened the score at 10:17 when junior John Kelly redirected sophomore defenseman Reid Cashman’s shot from the slot. Junior Joe Dumais, who assisted on Kelly’s goal, put the Bobcats in front for good less than two minutes later.
Then, with 5:22 left, freshman Ben Nelson, known as the scoring machine, tallied the first of his three goals in the game. Nelson took a centering feed out of the right circle from fellow freshman Jamie Bates and one-timed a shot past Worosz.
Already ahead 5-0 late in the second period, Nelson scored his second goal as he skated in from the left circle and snapped a shot top shelf on Worosz, who was pulled after the second period.
Nelson completed his second hat trick four minutes into the third period when he scored on a rebound. Nelson, now the Bobcats’ leading goal-scorer with 15, has points in nine consecutive games. During those nine games, the Bobcats have posted a 7-2 record.
“It’s definitely starting to feel like the playoffs,” Nelson said. “Everyone is close, so these two points were big, especially since we didn’t win [on Friday].”