Murphy’s Law: Heart and soul

Keith Petruzzelli has been the ‘rock’ of the Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey team

Bryan Murphy, Editor-in-Chief

It’s argued that the most important player in hockey is the man behind the mask — the goaltender.

While it takes a couple loose screws to be willing to prevent a hard piece of rubber whistling 80-90 mph from entering the net, a goalie can make or break a game.

For the Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey team, the man in the crease all season has been junior goaltender Keith Petruzzelli.

After two inconsistent seasons in Hamden, Petruzzelli has found his groove this year and has been a huge reason why the Bobcats can clinch a first-round bye for the ECAC Hockey playoffs this weekend. It’s also very easy to say he is one of the top goaltenders in the conference.

Connor Lawless
A table depicting the ECAC Hockey standings as of Feb. 19, 2020.

The stats speak for themselves. Petruzzelli has risen to third in ECAC Hockey in goals against average (2.21), wins (18), win percentage (.633) and total saves (699). He probably would like his save percentage to be higher, as he has a .914 percentage, seventh in ECAC Hockey, but Petruzzelli remains in the top tier of goaltenders in the conference and in the nation.

“Keith’s our rock,” sophomore forward Michael Lombardi said after this Friday’s 3-2 loss to Clarkson. “He plays so well every night, he works so hard. Obviously, he’s a really likable guy off the ice too, so guys wanna play for him. He brings so much for us … he’s our rock, he’s the heart and soul of this team.”

The most important thing is that Petruzzelli has answered the bell, especially as of late. Since winter break, he’s given up more than three goals only once in 15 games. In that span, the Bobcats have compiled an 11-3-1 record.

The highlighted of that run was the shutout of Cornell, who was ranked No. 1 in the nation at the time. The 5-0 loss was Cornell’s worst of the year, and Petruzzelli had 22 saves, earning his second shutout of the season.

“He’s been playing great the whole season,” senior forward Alex Whelan said after the Cornell win. “It’s easy for us to play in front of him when he plays (this) good.”

As mentioned, things haven’t always been so smooth for the Wilbraham, Massachusetts, native.

When Petruzzelli first came to Quinnipiac in 2017, the expectations were set high. Maybe a bit too high. Fresh off being selected in the third round of the 2017 NHL Draft by the Detroit Red Wings, many thought Petruzzelli would come in and follow in the footsteps of an elite path of goaltenders like Eric Hartzell (’13) and Michael Garteig (’16).

His first two seasons didn’t quite go that way. Petruzzelli’s freshman season, he sat behind Andrew Shortridge for most of the season, until Shortridge was injured late in the year. Petruzzelli took over in early February 2017, finishing the regular season and seeing his first collegiate playoff action. However, he finished his freshman campaign with a dismal .892 save percentage and a 2.88 GAA.

His sophomore year, Petruzzelli was the starter to kick off the season. He played in four out of the first five games of the season.

Then conference play started and well … it didn’t go great.

Petruzzelli gave up three, four and five goals in his first three ECAC Hockey games of the season. And with Shortridge getting shutout after shutout after shutout, Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold was left with no choice but to ride the hot hand of Shortridge for the rest of the way — and rightfully so. Shortridge would go on to win the ECAC Hockey Goaltender of the Year. He lead the nation in save percentage and GAA and was arguably snubbed of the Mike Richter Goaltender of the Year award for the NCAA that went to Northeastern’s Cayden Primeau.

Petruzzelli didn’t exactly take advantage of his slim opportunities he was given once Shortridge got hot. After the winter break, Petruzzelli was given the start in the Jan. 4, contest against Colgate, a team the Bobcats had shut out twice already that season. Petruzzelli gave up four goals on 21 shots and was yanked from the game.

Morgan Tencza
Junior goaltender Keith Petruzzelli protects his net during a game.

He didn’t start for the rest of the year, only making two more appearances, both against St. Lawrence when the game was well out of reach. Even then, Petruzzelli gave up a combined three goals on 11 shots in the two total periods he played. He finished the year with a 2.40 GAA and a .904 save percentage.

But enough with the negatives. That’s all in the past. Let’s look toward the future.

Quinnipiac has sole possession of third place in ECAC Hockey. With a sweep this weekend over RPI and Union the Bobcats would lock up a first-round bye in the conference playoffs. Catching Cornell or Clarkson for the No. 1 or 2 spot seems a bit out of the question as both are six points ahead, so Quinnipiac will have to duel for the No. 3 spot with Harvard who is one point behind.

In addition, Quinnipiac is still fighting for a prime Pairwise ranking to be eligible for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The tie to Brown a couple weekends ago hurt Quinnipiac a lot — two spots in the Pairwise rankings — in addition to the Clarkson loss. It’s going to need four wins to close out the year and needs teams like UMass Lowell, Western Michigan and Minnesota to pick up a loss or two to have a chance.

Petruzzelli is going to have to continue his stellar play. He has given up a grand total of six goals in four games against the remaining opponents, so goals against should not be a problem for the Bobcats.

And it’s been evident all season that the Bobcats are going to ride or die with Petruzzelli. He hasn’t received any help from his fellow goalies. He has started every single game all year, with freshman Evan Fear and junior Josh Mayanja combining to see just over 62 minutes in the 30 games the Bobcats have played.

“He’s been good on this run we’ve had so we just need him to keep playing like this,” Pecknold said.

The question is when will he burn out, if at all? Petruzzelli has already more than doubled his single season start totals (previous was 14 in 2017-18). At this rate, Quinipiac can’t afford him to begin to slip up. Four games, then the ECAC Hockey playoffs start.

The bottom line is the Bobcats need Petruzzelli to stay sharp the rest of the way if they want to win in the ECAC Hockey playoffs and make a run in the NCAA tournament. And Petruzzelli thinks it is something that can definitely happen.

“I think we have the right components on this team to (make a run in the playoffs),” Petruzzelli said. “Guys are just willing to block shots and do whatever it takes.”