North Dakota’s strong first line proves too much for slow-starting Bobcats in national championship

Tyrell Walden-Martin

Prior to Saturday night’s national championship game vs. North Dakota, Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey’s record was 6-0-3 this season after trailing through the first period.

The Bobcats fell behind 2-0 just 14:16 into action at Amalie Arena, but looked as though they had enough magic for one last comeback after cutting the deficit to one when Tim Clifton scored a powerplay goal with 1:07 to go in the opening period.

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But Quinnipiac just didn’t have enough for one last comeback, ultimately falling to North Dakota 5-1 to end the program’s run at its first-ever national championship.

The Bobcats pushed the tempo in the second period. It looked as if Quinnipiac would be able to possibly pull off yet another comeback, especially after senior goaltender Michael Garteig made save on a North Dakota breakaway from Drake Caggiula, who was named Most Outstanding Player on the Frozen Four All-Tournament Team.

“I thought we played a strong second period,” Garteig said. “I guess maybe after that save, yeah, maybe a little momentum shift, but in reality we had a real strong second. And we hit a couple of posts and couple of bounces that maybe just didn’t go our way. Unfortunately we couldn’t pop one in and make it a 2-2 game going into the third.”

As time ticked by, Quinnipiac’s chances at evening the game dwindled, still trailing 2-1 heading into the third period.

The Bobcats had held a record of 2-2-4 when trailing after the second period this season.

Yet, North Dakota was unlike any other team Quinnipiac faced this season. Since Nov. 1, 2013, the Fighting Hawks were 70-0-5 when leading after two periods, leaving Quinnipiac with virtually no chance.

North Dakota tacked on two goals within the first five minutes of the third period, essentially putting the game out of reach.

Throughout the 2015-16 season, Quinnipiac, on any given night, was the best team on the ice. However, head coach Rand Pecknold believed his team was outmatched tonight.

“I think what North Dakota showed tonight us they were the better team,” Pecknold said. “Doesn’t mean we couldn’t beat them. But that’s the best team in college hockey. They are just loaded with talent and they’re honest and they compete, and they backcheck, the goalie was great. [Cam] Johnson was excellent.”

The Fighting Hawks housed eight NHL draft picks compared to Quinnipiac’s two.

In fact, North Dakota’s line of Caggiula, Nick Schmaltz and Brock Boeser – which tallied seven points on the night – contained two draft picks in itself.

“That line’s special. We haven’t seen a line as good as that all season,” Pecknold said. “We’ve seen some good play. We played St. Cloud twice, swept St. Cloud. I haven’t seen a line like that. They’re high-end NHL talent. They’re honest. They compete. They win battles. It’s a pretty special combination of ability there.”

On top of that, the Bobcats’ team leader in points, Sam Anas, dealing with an injury.

“Sam wanted to play, and we need him out there, but he was struggling,” Pecknold said. “He’s actually worse these two games than he was against Lowell and RIT. It was just a pain tolerance thing. Sam was 50 percent and still made some plays tonight.”

Quinnipiac needed a fast start to get past a strong North Dakota team that was biting at the Bobcats’ heels in the national polls most of the season.

But it was North Dakota who took the initiative and came out strong in the biggest game of the season and Quinnipiac suffered because of it.

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