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Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey has finally conquered Kyle Hayton and the St. Lawrence Saints.
The Bobcats won the third and final game of the best-of-three series against St. Lawrence by a score of 3-2 on Sunday night. With the win, Quinnipiac moves onto the ECAC Hockey Semifinals in Lake Placid, New York next weekend, where it will face the top-seeded Harvard.
“We’re certainly excited to move on,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. “When the horn sounded at the end it was pretty nice, we just wanted to get out of here. It was a war, these three games. St. Lawrence is a really good hockey team and I thought our guys played really hard, and it was a battle.”
Quinnipiac and St. Lawrence came out of the gate extremely evenly-matched, showing off their respective speed, skill and willingness to win.
The Bobcats broke the ice first on their opening power play of the night.
After impressive control in Quinnipiac’s offensive zone, sophomore Thomas Aldworth slid a puck across the crease that bounced off a Saints defenseman and into the back of the net for his ninth of the season and first of the playoffs.
While things were looking up for the Bobcats, senior assistant captain Tommy Schutt was hit with an uncalled, blindside elbow to the head from St. Lawrence’s Joe Sullivan just two minutes later.
Schutt immediately went down the tunnel, into the locker room and did not return for the remainder of the game.
Going into the second period, Quinnipiac knew compensating for the loss of a key role player would take the extra effort, but giving up was not on its agenda whatsoever.
The Bobcats came out stronger than ever in the second frame of play. They possessed the puck, peppered goaltender Hayton with shots and scored at 12:43.
The goal came from senior captain Connor Clifton. As he flew down the right wing, he centered a puck that took a crazy bounce off of a St. Lawrence skate and somehow found its way into the back of the net.
The puck luck on the first two goals of the night had rarely come for the Bobcats this season, but with consistent diligence, the bounces have been positive so far in these playoffs.
“I think you get good luck when you work hard,” Pecknold said. “It happens. It’s a part of the game. A lot of goals are scored that way and we did a good job.”
With just under four minutes left in the period, Quinnipiac scored another goal when freshman Alex Whelan’s wrist shot cleanly beat Hayton past his glove. The goal was Whelan’s second in as many nights and the sixth team goal on Hayton this weekend after the Bobcats were unable to beat him in 199 consecutive minutes over a four-game span that started prior to this series’ Game 2 and dating back to Feb. 12, 2016.
Although up 3-0, with just under two minutes left to play in the period, Connor Clifton took a holding penalty to send the Saints on the power play. On the ensuing man-advantage, defenseman Eric Sweetman fired home a wrist shot from point-blank range with 10.6 seconds left, bringing life back into Appleton Arena going into the third period.
Up two goals, on the road, without an important center, the third period was biggest test of Quinnipiac’s season.
The Saints came out firing on all cylinders, forcing the Bobcats in its own zone for the majority of the period. With added play in the defensive zone, penalties followed from Quinnipiac’s end.
Things got even more interesting when a slashing call on senior assistant captain Tim Clifton resulted in another power play goal for the Saints. With 11:45 left in regulation, forward Mike Marnell potted his team leading 15th goal of the season to bring the Saints within one goal of a tie.
To make matters worse for the Bobcats, junior Tanner MacMaster was called for a 10-minute misconduct penalty on the play, adding to Quinnipiac’s total penalty minutes at a crucial point in time.
“Our Achilles’ heel has been the penalties, and we took just bad penalty, after bad penalty, after bad penalty,” Pecknold said. “The 10-minute misconduct, we’re already down to three centers, now we’re down to two centers. It was crazy. We had (defenseman Chase) Priskie playing center at the end of the game, they had the goalie pulled, but we found a way.”
Saints defenseman Ben Finkelstein rang a shot off the bar that looked to be a sure goal, forcing officials to review the play with 7:23 left. It was eventually deemed “no goal” to Quinnipiac’s delight, but nevertheless it dodged a bullet late.
With time ticking down and multiple faceoffs in Quinnipiac’s own zone, goaltender Andrew Shortridge stood tall when the Bobcats needed him most, and they ended up hanging onto their lead and upsetting the fourth-seeded Saints.
“I think that was great team effort, probably our best game we came together the whole year,” Whelan said. “We’re really starting to click at the right time and everyone just sacrificed. That was our main thing before the series started. We just had to sacrifice to win the game.”
The playoff series win over St. Lawrence is the first all-time after getting swept by the Saints in the 2009 ECAC Hockey Semifinals. The Bobcats will try to make more history when they travel to Lake Placid for the ECAC Hockey Semifinals for the fifth consecutive season.
The opponent will be nationally-ranked No. 2 Harvard, in what will be a do-or-die game for the Bobcats when it comes to winning the Whitelaw Cup as ECAC Champions and making the national tournament.
“I think we’re going to be ready to go,” Connor Clifton said. “We know our season is on the line. Obviously, this weekend we needed two wins, and we got them. It was huge, we got guys to really step up and I expect the same next friday night.”