If the Bobcats needed any extra incentive for Thursday’s winner-take-all showdown with UConn for the Heroes Hat, the opportunity to capture the Atlantic Hockey regular season title will be on the line.
Quinnipiac (14-6-2 in Atlantic Hockey) needs just one victory over its final two regular season games to clinch home ice advantage throughout the conference tournament. After the game in Storrs on Thursday, the Bobcats host last-place AIC on Saturday.
The chance to solidify Quinnipiac’s second regular season championship at the Division I level came about after the Bobcats swept a home-and-home series with Sacred Heart last weekend. Quinnipiac won both games, 5-3, including an empty-net goal to finish each game off.
“I really liked the confidence that we displayed,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said after Friday’s game. “We made a couple mistakes, but we played hard for 60 minutes and really took it to them in the third period.”
The two teams traded goals during the first period of Friday’s game at the Northford Ice Pavilion. The Bobcats took a 2-1 lead 4:52 into the second stanza on senior Chris White’s 100th point in a Quinnipiac uniform. White took a pass from freshman Jamie Bates in the slot and fired the puck into the upper right corner of the net.
Quinnipiac extended its lead to 3-1 at 10:42. Freshman defenseman Matt Sorteberg made a tape-to-pass from the blue line up the ice to senior Matt Froehlich, who skated in alone on Pioneers goalie Kevin LaPointe and beat him glove-side.
The Pioneers answered with a pair of quick goals in the final five minutes of the period. Pierre-Luc O’Brien pounced on a rebound and scored a power play goal to slide the lead in half. Only 1:09 later, the Pioneers went to the net again and knocked a rebound past senior goalie Jamie Holden to tie the game.
“Whether it’s a playoff game or you want first place, you always have to face some adversity,” Pecknold said. “How you handle it defines your team and season.”
With a chance to leap over Sacred Heart and into first place, the Bobcats responded with a strong third period. The Pioneers never had registered a shot until there was 1:03 remaining and Quinnipiac scored the only two goals of the period.
Sorteberg tallied the game-winner with 8:56 left. His slap shot from the blue line caught a piece of LaPointe’s glove and dropped into the net to give the Bobcats a 4-3 lead.
“It was just a quick one-timer that I was trying to get on the net as hard as I could,” Sorteberg said. “I was just hoping it got through like it did.”
Junior John Kelly added an empty-net goal with 5.7 seconds left.
In Saturday’s rematch at the Milford Ice Pavilion, the Bobcats went ahead 2-0 on a pair of goals by freshman defenseman Cashman, who leads Quinnipiac in points with 37. After the Pioneers capitalized on a five-on-three power play to make it 2-1, Froehlich and freshman Ben Nelson scored within a minute of each other to give the Bobcats a 4-1 lead after 40 minutes.
Quinnipiac was able to hold on in the third period despite allowing a couple late goals and being outshot 13-4. Froehlich sealed the game with an empty net goal with 32 seconds left.