Men’s hockey limps into the postseason

Doug Manners

All season long, the Quinnipiac men’s hockey team had managed to pick up at least one point in every ECACHL weekend series. Last weekend, needing just one point to secure a bye for the first round of the playoffs, the Bobcats came away empty-handed after hosting the conference’s top two teams to close out the regular season.

St. Lawrence and Clarkson each defeated Quinnipiac 4-1 at the TD Banknorth Sports Center, which means that instead of having this weekend off and playing at home the following weekend in the quarterfinals, the Bobcats will host last-place Union in a best-of-three series beginning Friday night.

“The guys are pretty dejected now, but I think we’ll come out hard [this] weekend,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said after the loss Saturday to Clarkson.

Quinnipiac (16-13-5, 10-8-4 ECACHL) finished in a tie for fourth-place with Cornell with 24 points, but the Big Red won the tie-breaker by having a better record against the top eight teams in the conference. St. Lawrence, Clarkson and Dartmouth finished first through third respectively and will also get first-round byes.

The power play is a major reason why the Bobcats won’t have this weekend off. After scoring a power play goal in all but one home game this season, Quinnipiac went 0-for-19 on the man advantage over the weekend. The Bobcats struggled to set much up against St. Lawrence, but fired 24 shots during 11 power plays against Clarkson.

“We had a lot of high-end chances,” assistant captain Michael Bordieri said. “I felt like these last couple games we just haven’t been getting the bounces we were early in the year.”

While it’s true the Bobcats had some tough puck-luck and faced two of the league’s top goalies, they also squandered several quality scoring opportunities.

They failed to get a single shot during 1:05 of a 5-on-3 power play late in the second period against Clarkson and, three minutes later, Brandon Wong shot the puck over an empty net after goalie David Leggio came out of his crease to poke the puck away from Reid Cashman on a shorthanded breakaway.

“He’s going to score on that nine out of 10 times,” Pecknold said. “A little bit of it was that pucks wouldn’t go in and we couldn’t get a bounce.”

Pecknold said he was happy with the effort against Clarkson, which broke a scoreless tie with two power-play goals in the first 10 minutes of the third period.

The first goal came on a failed clearing attempt. Dan Lefort tried to clear the puck from behind the Quinnipiac net, but put it right on the stick of Clarkson defenseman Tyrell Mason, who kept the puck in at the blue line. Mason gave the puck to Shea Guthrie, who skated through the slot and lifted a shot over Bud Fisher’s shoulder.

Quinnipiac would get a late third-period goal from Wong to make it a one-goal game before Clarkson scored two empty-net goals in the final 63 seconds.

The Bobcats were outworked, however, the night before by St. Lawrence. They fell behind 2-0 in the first six minutes and never recovered.

Slow starts have been an issue for Quinnipiac over the past few weeks. In a home loss to Dartmouth Feb. 9, the Bobcats gave up two goals in the first five minutes and went on to lose, 5-4.

“I don’t know what it is, but we just seem to be lacking a bit in the first five minutes and it’s putting us behind the eight-ball for the rest of the game,” assistant captain Jamie Bates said after Friday’s game.

In general, Quinnipiac has struggled throughout the second semester. It won three of its first four ECACHL games, but since a 6-2 win at Yale Jan. 13, the Bobcats have gone 2-5-1 in conference games.

The two wins have come against Yale and Brown, each of which is in the bottom half of the league. Even more alarmingly, the Bobcats are 1-3-1 in ECACHL games at the TD Banknorth Sports Center.

“The kids just aren’t buying in the way they were first semester,” Pecknold said after Friday’s game. “This semester has been very difficult. The kids, for the most part, just aren’t playing with that same emotion.”

They’ll need to find that emotion this weekend if they want to extend their season.