Garteig, freshmen filling open skates

Bryan Lipiner

The Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey team graduated 11 seniors following its 2013 Frozen Four run.

But in case you didn’t make the trip to Lowell, Mass., or weren’t one of the 3,487 in attendance at the TD Bank Sports Center Saturday night, it was difficult to tell.

This past weekend, Quinnipiac and UMass-Lowell met in a home-and-home series. Although Quinnipiac graduated 11 seniors compared to UMass-Lowell’s three, the young and inexperienced Bobcats played with the composure of a well-seasoned squad, a poise similar to that of the 2013 national runner-up.

Quinnipiac topped UMass-Lowell both nights by a 3-1 final. Michael Garteig, who has faced the tough task of replacing Hobey Baker Hat Trick Finalist Eric Hartzell, stopped 44 of 46 shots between the two nights.

As the former netminder Hartzell was in attendance for the banner raising ceremony Saturday, Garteig gave Quinnipiac fans a reason to be hopeful about the future.

Only a sophomore, Garteig played with the confidence of the former Hobey Baker candidate in the crease, standing large with the only goals given up coming off a deflection and an unlucky rebound.

“I felt confident in there,” Garteig said. “My [defense] were great tonight. My forwards were good tonight. It was good.”

While Garteig solidified himself between the pipes, most of the freshmen made an immediate impact, as Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold inserted seven of them in the starting lineup Friday and Saturday. For a team that lost 10 forwards and defensemen, the freshmen stepped up by blocking shots, outracing opponents and playing physical.

“We’ve got 11 freshmen, a lot of young guys, inexperience in the lineup,” Pecknold said after Friday night’s win. “Our freshmen are still learning our system, and our identity. We took a step forward tonight with them.”

On a statistical note, Derek Smith and Peter Quenneville each registered points Friday night, while Smith added two more assists Saturday. Connor Clifton also notched his second goal of the season Friday.

Quenneville, selected in the seventh round of the 2013 NHL Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets, complemented Connor and Kellen Jones on the first line, adding speed and versatility to the already powerful duo.

The young defensive core also filled in for the four departed seniors. Gone are Mike Dalhuisen, Loren Barron, Zach Davies and former captain Zack Currie. Replacing them are freshmen Derek Smith and Connor Clifton. Though smaller in size, the 5-foot-11 defensemen both provided stable defense, preventing the River Hawks from getting to the inside lanes.

“For a young, inexperienced team that we are right now, that’s a great win,” Pecknold said Friday.

With every shift, Quinnipiac out-battled its counterpart. Forwards sprinted across the neutral zone to set up odd-man rushes, while defensemen played a physical, checking game on the boards. Quinnipiac’s combination of speed and physicality forced UMass-Lowell to make mistakes.

And against a team that lost just three seniors, the younger, more inexperienced Bobcats sure seemed to have the upper hand.

“We’re pretty excited to get the sweep this weekend,” Pecknold said. “I think in the end, that [Lowell] is a top-5 team in the country. Ecstatic to win both nights.”

Both teams made it to Pittsburgh last April, but for one weekend, it may have appeared that only one of the squads reached the Frozen Four. The younger team clearly had the advantage, building off its cinderella run from last year.

Yes it’s early in the season, but this team is certainly a special one, and an uncontested sweep over one of the top teams in the country helped validate it.