TROY, N.Y. – This has been a year of firsts for the Quinnipiac men’s hockey team. They played their first game in the ECAC Hockey League on Nov. 4, defeating Harvard, 4-2, at the Hartford Civic Center. Then they won their first ECAC contest at the Northford Ice Pavilion the following night against Dartmouth.
Last weekend, the team played its first playoff series in the league. In a matter of days, the Bobcats secured their first ever ECAC playoff series victory when they traveled to RPI and stunned the host Engineers in a two-game sweep of the best-of-three series.
Afterwards, the positive impact of the series win for Quinnipiac was easily apparent.
“We’re ecstatic in here,” said Bobcats sophomore forward Jamie Bates, who scored the game-winner in Saturday’s clinching game. “To come in here and sweep a team like RPI, we knew we could do it but no one expected it. To do it the way we did, we’re pretty happy with ourselves right now.”
History was certainly working against the Bobcats in that effort. Prior to this series, Quinnipiac had failed to win in five tries against RPI, including a 0-1-1 mark this season. However, the Bobcats raced out to a quick 2-0 lead before five minutes had passed in Friday’s game, setting the tone for an upset weekend.
“One of the best things we have is the character on this team,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. “The guys were ready to play. We felt confident coming into the weekend that we could win the series. We felt confident that maybe we had a shot to sweep.”
Pecknold credited the Harvard game with opening some eyes to the Bobcats, and he hinted that this sweep of RPI had a similar effect. If Quinnipiac can find success in the quarterfinals this weekend against some of the ECAC’s best, few people will still have their eyes closed.
The referee for both games was Dave Hansen, who is working his first season in the ECAC. He used to work primarily in the professional American Hockey League, the top developmental league for the National Hockey League. Hansen was always known in AHL circles as being very fond of the whistle, and that trend continued last weekend. He called a total of 46 penalty minutes and the two teams combined for 21 power plays over the two games.
The series was well-attended by a vocal crowd both nights, with a total of 2,101 at Friday night’s game and 2,286 on Saturday night. This included a substantial number of non-students, who combined with the student fans to provide a good college hockey atmosphere. With a capacity of 5,217, the Houston Field House is the largest arena of any ECAC team. The building used to be the home rink for the Capital District Islanders of the AHL in the early 90’s. However, after only three seasons here, the Islanders were purchased by the New Jersey Devils and moved down the road to Albany. They have been the Albany River Rats ever since, as New Jersey’s top minor league affiliate.
The Bobcats’ top line of Bates, Brian Leitch and Ben Nelson factored into three of the team’s four goals in Saturday’s game. Leitch registered an assist on all three scores.A measure of how impressive the series win in its first try was for Quinnipiac: Union, which has been an ECAC member since 1991, has yet to win a postseason series.The series win at RPI guaranteed that the Bobcats will finish with a winning record for the tenth consecutive season, including eight in a row at the Division I level. The only other Division I schools with streaks as long as Quinnipac’s are Maine, Michigan, Michigan State, Northern Michigan and New Hampshire.