Murphy’s Law: Trying to get the ‘power’ back in the power play

Bryan Murphy

Going into the final minute of the third period against RPI, the No. 5 Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey team was 0-15 in its last 15 power play opportunities. It had not scored a goal on the man advantage in almost four games after being one of the most deadly units in the country.

Sophomore forward Odeen Tufto decided to break that streak at the best possible time.

Freshman forward Ethan de Jong had the puck at the right faceoff dot and instead of shooting, chose to slide it to Tufto sitting in the slot. Tufto then fired it past freshman goalie Owen Savory.

That goal broke a 1-1 tie with 34 seconds left to propel Quinnipiac to a victory and two very crucial ECAC Hockey points.

So like I said, a struggling power play showed a flash of its old ways at pretty much the most perfect time. But what now?

Quinnipiac has had a top five power play unit for most of the year, with a majority of that coming from the success of its first unit consisting of senior defensemen Chase Priskie and Brandon Fortunato, junior defenseman Brogan Rafferty, freshman forward Wyatt Bongiovanni and Tufto. That unit alone had contributed for 24 of the team’s 32 power play goals.

However, a couple weeks ago, the news broke out. Fortunato had suffered a season-ending leg injury in practice.

[media-credit id=2200 align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]“It’s a setback,” Fortunato said. “But I plan to rehab it hard. The toughest thing so far for me has been not being able to get out there with my team as we head for the playoffs. Not being able to contribute to that will be tough.”

This created an interesting dilemma. Fortunato offered a quick, puck moving defenseman to help man the power play unit. His play along the blue line and his vision help create multiple goals, and a big reason as to why he is second on the team in assists with 23.

Last week, as evident during the games on Feb. 7 and 8 against Yale and Brown, Pecknold confirmed that the team would be bumping freshman forward Ethan de Jong to replace Fortunato.

However, it isn’t as easy as it may seem. Before Tufto’s power play tally late against RPI, Quinnipiac had that cold spell and a big reason was because of the absence of Fortunato. The team was 0-11 on the power play since his injury. And the players agree that the void Fortunato leaves isn’t one that can be easily filled.

“I think Brandon is a special player and I don’t think we’ll have anyone replace him because he is a special brand,” Priskie said. “But I think we get Ethan to pop in, he’s a special player. We just got to learn each other’s tendencies and find out what’s going to work for us and how were going to make plays to benefit the team.”

For de Jong, he knows that he isn’t just filling in for Fortunato. He has a different role to play now for the top unit.

“I’m definitely not taking over his spot, obviously he was our hottest player and definitely a big loss for us,” de Jong said. “He’s unbelievable on the power play, his patience and poise. But basically what I’m supposed to do is just get the puck to the net. If Tufto gives it to me, I’m shooting. Or I’m creating a diversion for him to give it across to Priskie.”

With that being said, it’s a bit ironic how the game-winning goal came to be on Saturday. Instead of Tufto giving to de Jong to shoot, it was the other way around. But I’d guess neither of them, or the team, really care who passes and who scores. A goal is a goal and a win is a win.

As for how the power play unit will be for the rest of the year, it’s just going to take more reps for the unit to get used to each other, according to Priskie.

“I think it just takes time,” Priskie said. “The unit we have now we had 80 percent rollover from last year. I wouldn’t say we had a great player play [last year] but it wasn’t bad. And it just takes time. It took nearly a year for us to start clicking, just the four of us. And then this year, we’re operating at 30 percent [power play success], which I believe is top five in the country. So it just takes time.”

The Bobcats will need to bring back that power play success if it wants to make it to Lake Placid. Currently sitting in second with 24 points in a tight ECAC Hockey standings, Quinnipiac needs to get every point it can if it wants to get a bye in the playoffs and set themselves up well for a run in the postseason.

Quinnipiac sits a single point behind Cornell, who Quinnipiac owns the tiebreaker against if it comes down to it. In third sits Yale with 23 points and tied for fourth is Clarkson and Harvard.

Considering Quinnipiac still has to play Yale and Clarkson each once more, there could be a lot of shuffling in the top five these final two weeks. Quinnipiac also has matchups against St. Lawrence and Brown.

St. Lawrence is a team in the bottom of the ECAC Hockey standings. The Bobcats handled the Saints earlier this month with a 7-2 win. However, we’ve seen Quinnipiac handle a lower opponent, then lose to them later on (i.e. Cornell).

For Brown, it’s a middle of the pack team. But it came into Hamden and shocked Quinnipiac a night after the big Quinnipiac and Yale rivalry game, and left with two points.

So for Quinnipiac, it’s a matter of battling every single game. Priskie put it best on what needs to be done the rest of the year for Quinnipiac to come out on top.

“When our team starts to understand that every game is not guaranteed and you have to work to win every game, then we are going to be lethal,” Priskie said.