Men’s ice hockey preps for 2015-16 tilt

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Max Molski

Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey won the Cleary Cup in 2014-2015, finishing No. 1 in ECAC Hockey with a 16-3-3 conference record.

And though the Bobcats made their third-straight NCAA Tournament appearance, they were eliminated by North Dakota in the first round in Fargo, North Dakota.

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Senior assistant captain Travis St. Denis said the team is motivated from the tournament defeat, and is ready to get the season rolling.

“Losing definitely lights a fire under your butt,” St. Denis said. “We’re excited to get the year going and hope to make another run at the Frozen Four.”

Quinnipiac was ranked No. 18 in the nation in the USCHO Preseason Rankings, which came out on Sept. 28.

The ECAC also announced that the Bobcats were voted No. 4 overall in the ECAC Hockey Preseason Coaches’ Poll behind Harvard, St. Lawrence and Yale.

Head coach Rand Pecknold, who is returning for his 22nd year, admitted he does not look into the polls. Having lesser talent than its conference foes has not hindered Quinnipiac in the past, he says.

“I think we will be kind of where we were last year,” Pecknold said. “We’re probably fourth or fifth in the league in terms of talent and we’ll need to rely on our character, our team identity and our commitment to win the league like we did last year.”

Following last season, players selected senior Soren Jonzzon as captain of the 2015-2016 team. Jonzzon had a career-high with eight goals, seven assists, and 15 points as a junior.

“(Jonzzon) has been excellent. Great character, great player, straight-A student,” Pecknold said. “I couldn’t be happier to have Soren as our captain this year.”

The team also selected St. Denis and junior Sam Anas as assistant captains. St. Denis achieved career-highs with 15 goals, 18 assists and 33 points last season. Anas, on the other hand, ranked No. 8 in the nation with 23 goals, recording 39 points overall.

Although Jonzzon, Anas and St. Denis are sporting a ‘C’ across their chests, Jonzzon said leading the team is a collective effort.

“It’s not us three as the leaders,” Jonzzon said. “We have the letters, but without secondary leadership, we have no shot at truly leading the team.”

Senior Michael Garteig returns in net for the Bobcats. He secured Quinnipiac’s all-time shutouts record on Feb. 6 against Cornell, giving him 11 to surpass Eric Hartzell (’13). Garteig had five shutouts in his junior season along with a .671 win percentage, 2.03 GAA and .917 save percentage. Both Pecknold and Garteig himself expect improvement this year.

“It’s just little things in working hard and doing what I can to get better and help the team win,” Garteig said.

“For [Garteig], he was great in league but struggled a bit at times out of league. It’s just a consistency thing. I think he’s poised to have a great senior season for us,” Pecknold said.

All but six players on this year’s team are returning players. Sophomore Landon Smith figures to be a big part of the Quinnipiac offense. Last season, he led all ECAC freshmen in goals (15) and assists (16).

On the other end of the ice, juniors Devon Toews and Connor Clifton are two of the Bobcats’ returning defensemen. Clifton had played all but one of his 74 career games in a line with 2014-2015 senior captain Danny Federico. Now that Federico has graduated and is playing in the ECHL, Pecknold says a number of players will have to fill the defensive void.

“We have some good freshmen D in [Chase] Priskie, [Luke] Shiplo, and [Daniel] Fritz. We’re hoping [junior]Joe Fiala will have a larger role this year. [Sophomore] Kevin McKernan really came on in the second half of last year. We’re hoping he can jump up from a six to a top-four D this year.”

Quinnipiac won its home exhibition game 3-1 on Sunday against St. Thomas in a game where the Bobcats outshot the Tommies 63-11.

The team opens its regular season schedule with a home-and-home series against Holy Cross. The Bobcats go to Worcester, Massachusetts on Oct. 9 before hosting the Crusaders in their home opener on Oct. 10.

Quinnipiac follows up the Holy Cross series with a slate of non-conference games in October. The team hosts Arizona State on Oct. 15 in its first year as a Division-I program, a game that Pecknold said was not originally scheduled but is now a late fill.

The team finishes the month with a home game against Maine and back-to-back home games against St. Cloud State.

Quinnipiac kicks off ECAC play with a trip to New York on the first weekend of November. The team plays at Colgate on Nov. 6 before traveling to Cornell the next day.

The team gets its first home conference game on Nov. 13 against Harvard and comes back the next day to play Dartmouth. Anas said the stiff conference competition will help the team looking forward.

“I think the ECAC is one of the tougher leagues out there,” Anas said, “and I think that’s really good for us in the long run.”

The Bobcats play the UConn Huskies at the XL Center on Nov. 15 in non-conference action. The Huskies topped the Bobcats 4-1 at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport last season.

The teams remaining non-conference games from that point in the season are against UMass, Boston University, Northeastern and Maine.

The Bobcats will make a trip to the Big Apple on Jan. 9. Quinnipiac will take on Harvard at “The World’s Most Famous Arena:” Madison Square Garden. Pecknold said he thinks the game is as much an experience for the university as it is for the players.

“I think that’s a game that a lot of people will rally around,” he said.

Amongst the Bobcats’ ECAC schedule are their two matchups against cross-town rival Yale. Quinnipiac travels to Ingalls Rink in New Haven to face Yale on Dec. 4 and ends its regular season with Senior Night at home against Yale on Feb. 27.

“The Yale games are always, as cliché as they are at this point, fun games to be a part of,” Jonzzon said. “There’s a high competition level.”

Although the season has not even started yet, there is a common goal amongst the Bobcats: make it to Tampa Bay for the 2016 Frozen Four.

“I think the goal has always been the same. Start with the Cleary, then get a Whitelaw (cup for winning ECAC Tournament), and then get an NCAA,” Jonzzon said.

“It’s hard not to smile when you think about possibly going to the Frozen Four,” Anas said.

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