As improbable as it might have seemed seven weeks ago, Quinnipiac clinched the Atlantic Hockey regular season title on Thursday and secured home ice advantage throughout the league playoffs with a 4-2 win at UConn.
The Bobcats, who also won the Heroes Hat for the fourth consecutive season, will open the Atlantic Hockey tournament on Saturday with a quarterfinals game against either Army or American International College. If the Bobcats win that game, Quinnipiac will host the semifinals and championship on Mar. 18 and 19.
Quinnipiac (16-6-2 in Atlantic Hockey) will go into the tournament riding a league-best six-game winning streak. Since a 4-1 loss to UConn on Jan. 14, when the Bobcats were in seventh-place, Quinnipiac has gone 13-2 to clinch its first regular season championship in five years.
“Nobody thought at the beginning of the year, or even in late January, that we had a chance of winning the regular season championship,” said head coach Rand Pecknold, who picked up his 200th career win with Saturday’s 6-1 victory against AIC. “The kids have played well and they deserve it.”
Having home ice advantage should give Quinnipiac an extra boost in the tournament. The Bobcats have lost just three games at home this season and are 74-11-9 all-time at the Northford Ice Pavilion. The winner of the Atlantic Hockey tournament earns an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
“The biggest thing was getting that home ice advantage,” senior Matt Craig said. “The confidence throughout the team is tremendous.”
Last weekend, the Bobcats picked up wins in their final two regular season games as a member of Atlantic Hockey. After UConn opened the scoring 32 seconds into Thursday’s game, sophomore defenseman Reid Cashman scored at 6:11 of the first period to knot the score at 1-1.
The goal marked Cashman’s 38th point of the season and established Quinnipiac’s new single-season mark for defensemen. Cashman, who had four assists in Saturday’s game, has the most points among defensemen nationally.
The Bobcats pulled ahead 2-1 with 28 seconds left in the period when junior John Kelly scored on a rebound. Junior Michael Bordieri added another rebound goal for Quinnipiac in the second period.
Quinnipiac finished off the Huskies with 4:43 to go in the third period. Just 29 seconds after UConn had scored to make it a one-goal game, the Bobcats took advantage of a turnover and senior Matt Froehlich fired the puck over the right shoulder of UConn goalie Scott Tomes.
“Our goal was to win Thursday’s game because we didn’t want to have to clinch (on Saturday),” Craig said.
With first-place already wrapped up, the Bobcats were able to enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere on Saturday for Senior Night. Several of Quinnipiac’s nine seniors honored prior to the game shined in the 6-1 trouncing of AIC, with Craig leading the way with two goals and an assist.
Jack Devaney and Rob Hammel both tallied a goal and an assist, while Craig Falite picked up one assist. Goalie Jamie Holden stopped 18 of 19 shots before being replaced by junior John Siembida in the third period.
Froehlich, Chris White and Tom Watkins also suited-up in their final regular season game for the Bobcats.
“You couldn’t ask for a better way to go out,” Craig said. “Now we have to take it into the next level.”