Making the adjustment from Atlantic Hockey to the ECAC hockey conference would have been a tough task on its own. But the Bobcats are making the jump with ten freshmen, no clear-cut number one goaltender and three home rinks.
So it came as little surprise when Quinnipiac was selected to finish last in the ECAC coaches and media preseason polls. And while head coach Rand Pecknold doesn’t envision the Bobcats finishing the season in last place, he admits he isn’t sure of how well Quinnipiac will adjust to the higher level of play in the ECAC.
“It’s such a new endeavor and the adjustments are going to happen on the fly,” Pecknold said. “I’m sure we’re going to struggle at times in certain areas, but I don’t think you can predict what’s going to happen.”
The Bobcats have been one of the elite teams in Atlantic Hockey/MAAC over the past seven seasons, finishing lower than second place just once. Quinnipiac advanced to the conference championship game four times, including last season, and won the championship in 2002 to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament.
But the ECAC is a far more talented league than Atlantic Hockey, the weakest of the six Division I men’s hockey conferences. The Bobcats defeated ECAC member Dartmouth, 2-1, last season, but are 2-7-1 all-time against teams from the conference.
“In Atlantic Hockey, against some of the lower-end teams, you’d get away by playing 40 minutes of hockey,” captain Ty Deinema said. “If you don’t play 60 minutes (in the ECAC), you’re not going to win.”
The most pressing issue for Quinnipiac is goaltending. The Bobcats will allow a lot of shots this season and will need strong, if not spectacular, goaltending to be successful.
With last year’s starter, Jamie Holden, having graduated, senior Josh Siembida is the most logical candidate to fill the starting role. Siembida, a former starter at the University of North Dakota, transferred to Quinnipiac last season and played in eight games. He’ll be challenged by freshmen Bud Fisher and Wes Russell.
“I’m going into the season with my eyes wide open and hoping that one of those three guys steps up and takes the (starting) job,” Pecknold said.
The Bobcats lost three key forwards, Matt Craig, Matt Froehlich, and Chris White, to graduation. Sophomore Ben Nelson, who had a phenomenal freshman year with 28 points in 25 games, is the only returning forward who scored more than six goals last season. Quinnipiac has five freshmen forwards this year, including Mark Nelson.
On defense, Quinnipiac only lost the underrated Tom Watkins to graduation. Hobey Baker Award finalist Reid Cashman returns for his junior season. Cashman led Atlantic Hockey in scoring last season and finished with more points than any other Division I defenseman. The Bobcats will also be counting heavily on Cashman’s partner on the blue line last season, sophomore Matt Sorteberg.
Quinnipiac will have to play its first season in the ECAC without a real home ice advantage. Since the start of the 2001-02 season, the Bobcats are 49-8-7 at the Northford Ice Pavilion. But Quinnipiac will only play four of its 11 home ECAC games at the Ice Pavilion, which has a seating capacity generously listed at 1,000.
“It’s certainly a disadvantage, but it’s something we have to deal with,” Pecknold said.
The Bobcats will play six games at Yale’s Ingalls Rink (including their “home” game against the Bulldogs) and their inaugural ECAC game on Nov. 4 against Harvard will be played at the Hartford Civic Center. Next season, the ice hockey and basketball teams will move into the new Hudson United Bank Center.