Men’s hockey team building its legacy

Doug Manners

Before the ECACHL semifinals, Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold recalled a conversation he had with athletic director Jack McDonald when the Bobcats were admitted into the league in 2004.

“He said ‘what do you think – finish between nine through 12 the first four years in the league and then move up after that.’ I kind of agreed, but I didn’t want it to take that much time,” Pecknold said.

Pecknold didn’t have to wait four years for the Bobcats to blast out of the basement. In just its second year in the ECACHL, Quinnipiac finished in fifth place and advanced to the championship game, winning five straight playoff games along the way, including a two-game sweep at Cornell, which had been 40-5 all-time in home playoff games.

The Bobcats came within 20 minutes of shocking the conference and advancing to the NCAA tournament. One night after shutting out top-seeded St. Lawrence in the semifinals, Quinnipiac had a 2-0 lead going into the third period of the championship game against Clarkson, the second seed and No. 5 team in the nation at the time.

Clarkson scored four unanswered goals in the third to put a disheartening end to Quinnipiac’s season, though what the Bobcats had accomplished during the playoffs wasn’t lost on the players.

“For us to win two playoff series and get to the championship game with a two-goal lead going into the third, I don’t have regrets about how the third period goes,” Quinnipiac senior captain Reid Cashman said.

For Quinnipiac, which finished the season ranked No. 16 and spent most of the season in the top-20, its quick rise in the ECACHL can be attributed to recruiting. Bryan Leitch was the conference’s Rookie of the Year last season and Brandon Wong shared that honor with Yale’s Sean Backman this year.

“Recruiting has been good and that’s allowed us to move along quicker than anyone thought it would happen,” Pecknold said.

The Bobcats have the tools to be one of the elite teams in the ECACHL in the coming seasons. Cashman and forward Michael Bordieri are the only two players they’ll lose to graduation.

The loss of Cashman, who signed with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs last week, will leave Quinnipiac with a large hole to fill on its blue line. Cashman led all defensemen in the nation in assists this season and logged a lot of ice time for the Bobcats.

All of the players who made up Quinnipiac’s top three forward lines will be back next season, so the Bobcats should remain one of the nation’s best teams offensively. Cashman was key to setting up goals, especially on the power play, but only scored three goals this season. Bordieri had two goals.

Bud Fisher, who started in all but one game this year, will return for his junior year. Fisher struggled at times during the final month of the regular season, but put together an impressive run during the playoffs, posting two shutouts and a .931 save percentage in six games.

“There’s no question we wouldn’t [have been] in the championship game without him,” Pecknold said.

The Bobcats will also get to enjoy their new home, the TD Banknorth Sports Center, for an entire season next year. Before the new arena opened in late January, the Bobcats had played home games in the past two years at the Northford Ice Pavilion, Yale’s Ingalls Rink and the Hartford Civic Center, where they played their inaugural ECACHL game.

The ECACHL has proven to be difficult to predict. This season’s preseason favorite, Colgate, finished in eighth place, while top-seeded St. Lawrence was tabbed for sixth by the coaches and seventh by the media in the preseason polls. But with the bulk of Quinnipiac’s roster being freshmen and sophomores, the future appears to be bright for the men’s hockey team.