Tufto and Petruzzelli contend for Hobey Baker Award

The two key seniors battle for national hardware and a championship

Peter Piekarski, Associate Sports Editor

At the abrupt ending of the 2020 season, questions arose around two Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey players about whether or not they would return for their senior seasons.

Fast forward 11 months and both forward Odeen Tufto and goaltender Keith Petruzzelli are in contention for the most prestigious award given annually to the best player in college hockey, the Hobey Baker Award.

Tufto, upon his return, was named the 47th captain in Bobcats program history back in June. His level of play on the ice and immense leadership at all times backs up head coach Rand Pecknold’s choice. Petruzzelli, the 6-foot-5 brick wall between the pipes, intended on returning for his final season to dominate the league.

Senior goaltender Keith Petruzzelli is currently third in the country with a 1.66 goals against average (GAA). (Morgan Tencza (2020))

Even with the announcement of the Hobey Baker nominees on Feb. 1, the goal for both Tufto and Petruzzelli and the team is securing a championship.

“I mean obviously they’re both special players and Odeen has done what he’s done, and Keith the same way, he’s really stepped up and played very well,” senior forward Joe O’Connor said. “We want to win the conference, obviously, but I don’t think that’s our main goal, we want to win a national championship. And if Keith keeps playing the way he does, I mean we’ve got a very good shot, and Odeen keeps moving that puck I think we’re gonna do pretty well in the end.”

Looking at league-wide NCAA DI statistics, Tufto currently ranks first in assists (31), second in points (35), first in power-play points (PPP) with 17, and third in points-per-game (1.52). That 1.52 point-per-game (PPG) pace over the course of a 36-game season would lead to Tufto notching roughly 55 points. That would mark the fourth time that it’s been achieved in Quinnipiac DI history.

However, Quinnipiac is only scheduled for a 27-game regular season plus however many games it plays in the ECAC Hockey playoffs, not to mention the NCAA playoffs if it makes it.

Statistically, this is Tufto’s best season in his four years as a Bobcat. He’s currently ranked third in DI program history with 152 points, with a chance to claim the top spot if Quinnipiac makes a run in the NCAA playoffs.

“I think the Hoby Baker award is obviously special, you know, the award has so much history,” Tufto said. “It’s pretty special for my family and I to get nominated. I think I look at all those individual words, and it’s definitely humbling to see those and to be a part of some of those other names. But like I said, it’s really not the focus right now. Those individual awards will take care of itself, and right now, as a leader, I’m just focused on getting these guys ready for these last couple of regular-season weekends, and then making sure we’re prepared for playoffs coming up.”

Speaking of best statistical seasons, Petruzzelli is building an even stronger case for his nomination. Following a phenomenal junior year with a .920 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.01 goals-against average (GAA), the Massachusetts native is currently third in the nation amongst starting goaltenders with a 1.66 GAA and seventh in the nation with a .930 SV%.

Petruzelli’s incredible season has also earned him a nomination for the Mike Richter Award, which is given annually to the most outstanding goaltender in DI ice hockey.

In a season with empty stands, mental preparation is the most crucial aspect for a goaltender. Not having any fans in the stands means that the players have to feed off of each other’s energy. For a goaltender, that’s a little more difficult as they are isolated from the bench and have to stay laser-focused at all moments of the game.

“The momentum changes are more based off your bench,” Petruzelli said. “A well-knit group together to help build momentum shift after shift instead of just getting a big hit and getting the crowd into the game early. So for me, it’s definitely been a bit of a change, warm-ups you come out and there are no fans and it’s quiet. It’s a lot more on yourself to get yourself mentally into the game so it’s just a bit of an adjustment.”

Graphic by Connor Lawless

Notably, stats for goaltending don’t show the full picture. Goalies can make all the easy saves, but if they can’t make crucial or momentum-swinging stops, the stats are flawed. For Petruzzelli, his game shines the brightest when the pressure is on.

In the biggest games of the season, Petruzzelli has been otherworldly. During the weekend series against No. 12/13 Bowling Green, he saved 67 of the 72 shot attempts for a .931 SV%.

In games only against ECAC Hockey opponents, he has a 1.30 GAA and a .933 SV%. Within every single one of those games, Petruzzelli has made several clutch saves to either keep the Bobcats ahead, tied or in the game until the final whistle. That also includes his shootout performances.

“It makes a lot easier, like you obviously don’t want to give up chances, but you just know you have a safety net behind you,” junior defenseman Zach Metsa said. “You take a chance and it doesn’t go the way you want, you know Keith’s going to bail you out and make that save. Knowing you have Keith back there takes a lot of pressure off. You’re not uptight about making mistakes, you can play a little looser and give up a couple of chances even if you don’t want to.”