Pete’s pond: Offense from unexpected players

Quinnipiac’s bottom-six forwards propel Bobcats in ECAC Hockey standings

Peter Piekarski, Associate Sports Editor

For the entire season, Quinnipiac’s offense has revolved around six players. The last four games proved otherwise as depth scoring came in waves to boost the Bobcats’ hold on first place in ECAC Hockey.

The two, bottom-six forwards that suddenly blossomed are sophomores Matthew Fawcett and Joey Cipollone. Fawcett, who had not recorded a point since opening night in December, lit the lamp three times and tallied an additional three assists over the past four games. His offensive output landed him an ECAC Player of the Week award.

During the 9-0 win over Colgate on Saturday, Fawcett was a hound on the puck. He was relentless all night on the forecheck, and his ability to battle in the corners despite facing much larger defensemen was quite noticeable.

Late in the third period, Fawcett got buried into the boards, but instead of retaliating as many players on both sides did for most of the game, he collected the puck in the corner and set up junior defenseman T.J. Friedmann in the low slot for a power-play goal.

And Cipollone, who had one point all season, netted his first goal as a Bobcat alongside three assists in his last two games. Before Saturday night’s game, it had been 456 days since Cipollone had scored a goal, so the monkey is off the back for him as the ECAC Hockey playoffs draw closer.

Sophomore forward Matthew Fawcett recorded three goals and three assists in four games for the Bobcats. (Courtesy of QU Athletics)

Depth scoring has been an issue for the Bobcats all year as 40 of the team’s 74 goals (54%) have come off of the sticks of five players. Losing junior forward Wyatt Bongiovanni in December was extremely impactful on how Quinnipiac’s offense performed 5-on-5 and on the power play.

With Bongiovanni sidelined for the meantime, freshman sensation Ty Smilanic has been slotted into the epicenter of one-timers on the right faceoff dot. Smilanic has potted three goals on the man advantage since Bongiovanni’s injury.

The only issue with Smilanic on the right side as opposed to the bumper position in the high slot or down low looking for screens or rebounds, is that Bongiovanni has a much more excessive shot-first mentality. His shot volume forced the penalty killers to shift toward him and assume the puck was headed to his stick.

In actuality, this allows shooting lanes for the “quarterback” which flip flops between junior defensemen Peter DiLiberatore and Zach Metsa, as well as senior forward Odeen Tufto. Since Tufto is a well-known pass-first player, his shot availability has not been ideal for the power play.

Bongiovanni’s injury has prevented these lanes from opening up, leading to many forced shots from outside high-percentage areas, as well as many blocked shots.

Dating back to Jan. 10, Quinnipiac’s power play has been ice cold. Over that nine-game stretch, the Bobcats only mustered to net two power-play goals on 30 opportunities. That 6.67% could have been more damaging had their penalty kill not been superb all season long.

The excessive cold stretch ultimately ended on Feb. 13, as the Bobcats converted on four of their eight power plays, bringing the teams total power-play percentage (PP%) up to 23.3% on the season.

Referencing back to Pete’s Pond: The Final Stretch, two players that were brought up with expectations to produce more were sophomore forwards Ethan Leyh and Skyler Brind’Amour. They both rose to the task since then, as they both collected three points.

Leyh, who only played in three of the last four games, broke his 19-game goalless drought with a late second-period goal, which also happened to be assisted by Fawcett and Brind’Amour.

This level of depth production is exactly what Quinnipiac needed. As the ECAC Hockey playoffs roar closer, and the race for the conference title gets tighter, removing some pressure off of the shoulders of the top producers is paramount.

If the offense starts to catch fire as the Bobcats roll into the playoffs, it could be a key recipe for success, especially if Bongiovanni returns in time. Furthermore, their excellent defense and goaltending will fuel the fire.

Graphic by Connor Lawless

The anchor for the entire season has been senior goaltender Keith Petruzzelli. His stats continuously improve as the season progresses, and he keeps building on his most successful season as a Bobcat.

His 1.66 goals against average (GAA) ranks first in ECAC Hockey and fourth in all of Division I, and his .933 save percentage (SV%) sits at second in ECAC Hockey and is tied for eighth in Division I. To add to those outstanding stats, Petruzzelli has five shutouts, a career high, in just 22 starts.

This Bobcats roster is hungry. After having last season cut short right before playoffs, Quinnipiac wants this one more than ever. With the departure of Tufto and Petruzzelli at the end of this year, both who have left an everlasting impact on Quinnipiac hockey, the time is now.