Men’s ice hockey preps for NCAA Tournament

Alec Turner

The Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey team is going to its third consecutive NCAA Tournament in as many years. The Bobcats collected the No. 15 overall seed in the 2015 NCAA Tournament and will face No. 2 North Dakota on Friday night at 8 p.m. at Scheels Arena in Fargo.

Quinnipiac finished 14th in the PairWise Rankings and received an at-large bid to the tournament. Bobcats’ head coach Rand Pecknold is pleased with the young team making it this far.

“We’re proud to be in the tournament, especially with the amount of talent that we lost this past year,” Pecknold said. “I think a lot of guys stepped up this season.”

North Dakota is located just 80 miles away from the regional location where they will square off with Quinnipiac.

“We’ll play anyone anywhere wherever we need to go, there is no reason to cry over spilt milk,” Pecknold said. “We are excited for the challenge and the opportunity.”

Senior co-captain Dan Federico was one of many who was surprised with the location of the regional.

“We were surprised but excited when we found out we were going out to Fargo,” Federico said. “It’s a cool experience to play a historic program like North Dakota.”

Despite being one of the lower seeds, the Bobcats are still confident about being in the tournament, according to senior co-captain Matthew Peca.

“We don’t see ourselves as the underdog. We feel we can play with any team in the country as long as we have a good first period.”

North Dakota received the second overall seed of the tournament with an at-large bid. Itwent 27-9-3 in the 2014-15 season and won the Penrose Cup as the National Collegiate Hockey Conference regular season champions. In the conference tournament, it lost in the semifinals to St. Cloud State and then lost again in the consolation game to Denver. The only team that is ranked higher in the nation is No. 1 Minnesota State.

This is the 30th appearance for North Dakota in the national tournament. It is also the 13th straight year that they have made the tournament, which is tied for the second longest all-time streak in Division I hockey. North Dakota is the second winningest program in the nation with seven national titles, only behind Michigan’s nine.

“Year in and year out they are dominant, and they are on the best teams historically in the country,” Pecknold said.

The two programs have met twice all time, a series sweep at the hands of North Dakota in 2006.

“It’s definitely uncharted territory, it will definitely be a good test for both teams,” Peca said.

North Dakota has two 30-point scorers on their squad. Junior Drake Caggiula and senior Michael Parks have put up 33 and 32 points on the campaign, respectively. The rest of the team includes seven players that have 20 or more points on the season. In net, they have junior Hobey Baker finalist Zane McIntyre who is second in the nation in wins and 16th in goals against average. On the entire roster, there are 14 NHL draft picks, including two first rounders.

“They’re one of the best in the business and we are looking forward to the challenge of playing them in Fargo,” Pecknold said.

The Bobcats will be playing on Friday without leading scorer Sam Anas. The sophomore forward suffered a lower body injury in the ECAC Hockey Quarterfinals against Union and sat out of the conference semifinals against Harvard last week. This season, Anas leads the team in points and goals with 40 and 23, respectively.

“We are going to proceed ahead without him, and we need to find a way. We don’t make excuses,” Pecknold said.

Peca believes with Anas out the entire team has to step up on the offensive side of the puck, especially on the power play.

“Anybody that’s in a goal-scoring opportunity has to step up,” Peca said.

In a matchup that will seem like a home game for North Dakota, the Bobcats will face a challenge against one of the nation’s powerhouses in a tough atmosphere. Yet, Pecknold is not concerned about the environment for the game

“We aren’t going to talk about it much, we expect to play well everywhere,” Pecknold said. “I think we’ll respond well to it, we have played well in hostile environments all year.”

Despite being the lower seed, the team is happy about the opportunity and is confident in the squad that they have.

“It’s not easy to get into the tournament, and we don’t want to take anything for granted,” Peca said. “We’ve gotten better as the year has gone on, and we knew from the beginning of the year we would be a special team.”

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