TROY, N.Y. – All season long, ECAC road games had been cruel and heartbreaking to the Quinnipiac men’s hockey team. In 11 regular season conference games away from home, the Bobcats posted just two wins. Of the nine losses, six were by one goal, the other three by two goals.
But any road blues were erased this weekend in a matter of just over 26 hours, as No. 10 Quinnipiac defeated No. 7 RPI at the Houston Fieldhouse on Saturday night, 4-2, to sweep the best-of-three first round ECAC playoff series. The Bobcats, in their inaugural season in the league, won Friday’s game, 2-1.
“Certainly, this is a big step for us, winning a series and beating a team like RPI with the tradition they have,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. “We certainly respected RPI, we’d never beaten them before.”
The Bobcats will advance to the next round of the ECAC playoffs next weekend with another best-of-three series. Quinnipiac’s opponent will be Cornell, Colgate or Dartmouth, and all of the games will be played on the road.
It was a must-win game for the Engineers, and the Bobcats had to withstand heavy pressure in the opening minutes of the first period. Quinnipiac took a penalty just 22 seconds into the game, leading to an early goal for RPI as Oren Eizerman scored on a wrist shot from the slot at 41 seconds.
“I had a little concern that RPI would have more intensity than us, which they did early on, and we kind of weathered the storm,” Pecknold said.
After giving up that goal on RPI’s first shot of the night, freshman goalie Bud Fisher settled down to stop 33 of the next 34 shots for the Bobcats.
“Bud was seeing the puck well and he wasn’t giving up many rebounds,” Quinnipiac sophomore Jamie Bates said. “If he plays like that, we’re going to do good things in the playoffs.”
The Bobcats used their power play in the first period to take a 2-1 lead.
First, freshman forward Brian Leitch scored at 4:50 tie to the game at 1. Leitch took a cross-ice pass in the low slot from Bates and beat RPI goalie Mathias Lange (14 saves) on Quinnipiac’s first shot of the game.
Then, Reid Cashman scored for the Bobcats on a 5-on-3 man advantage. The junior defenseman’s shot from the right point beat a screened Lange through traffic at 13:55.
With 1:55 left in the first, Bates fired the puck just under the crossbar from the left circle to score what ended up as the game-winning goal.
“It was kind of a broken play and Leitch gave me a nice pass,” Bates said.
In the second period, RPI pulled back within a goal with 4:37 left when Kevin Broad snapped a shot over Fisher’s glove from the right face-off dot.
But Quinnipiac would answer 1:28 later on an unassisted goal from senior John Kelly. He skated the puck into the RPI zone down the right wing and, just before falling to the ice, fired shot over Lange’s left shoulder to restore a two-goal lead that Quinnipiac wouldn’t relinquish.