Pete’s Pond: Quinnipiac vs. Minnesota State preview

The Bobcats make their return to the NCAA playoffs

Peter Piekarski, Associate Sports Editor

From a brutal overtime loss on home ice in the ECAC Hockey championship to an automatic bid just 24 hours later, the Bobcats’ rollercoaster of emotions has been inexplicable.

Saturday night’s matchup against Minnesota State in Loveland, Colorado, is set to be an interesting game. Both teams are coming off of huge upset losses on home ice.

“With the way this year’s gone, just to be playing is special,” senior forward and captain Odeen Tufto said. “In my sophomore year we were in Allentown (Pennsylvania), it’s the best time of the year. It’s the best hockey. It’s the most fun. Your adrenaline (is) going. Single elimination to get a bid to the Frozen Four, there’s nothing better in college hockey.”

The Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey team is coming off an upset loss in the ECAC Hockey championship to St. Lawrence. (Courtesy of QU Athletics)

This is a tough draw for the Bobcats as the Mavericks have arguably the best goaltender in college hockey, junior Dryden McKay, and the most impenetrable defense in the NCAA. McKay leads the country with a 1.40 goals against average (GAA) and nine shutouts. He also is eighth in save percentage at .930%. The team’s defensive unit has only allowed 38 goals in 25 games, which is the best in the nation.

The Mike Richter Award, which gets distributed to the best goaltender in hockey, recently had its three finalists announced by the NCAA, and McKay is one of them. Deservingly so, as McKay has had an incredible season.

“His numbers are unbelievable, he’s really had a great year,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. “Obviously, he had a little slip in the Northern Michigan game and let in some goals he probably wants back. But I’ve watched a bunch of tape on him, we talked about it as a team. I like the way he plays. He’s aggressive, he challenges, sometimes over challenges. We’ve got to find ways to get pucks to the net and if he’s going to over challenge, bang in some rebounds. Take away his eyes and make him play a little bit deeper.”

Offensively, the Mavericks don’t have superstars. They defeat their opponents through lethal levels of depth scoring. The Mavericks have 12 skaters with 10-plus points this season and average the seventh-most goals per game (3.52) in the NCAA. Minnesota State is also tied for first with the best goal margin per game (2.00).

All around, this team is complete. The Mavericks’ power play is third in the league at 27.3%, and their penalty kill is No. 15 at 84%.

Now, that’s not to say Quinnipiac doesn’t have a dog in the fight. The Bobcats are right up there in all of the statistical categories previously mentioned.

Senior goaltender Keith Petruzzelli has been the anchor to this team all year and sits sixth in GAA (1.82), 10th in SV% (.927%) and is tied for fourth in shutouts (four).

Quinnipiac ranks No. 11 with 3.46 goals per game, sixth in goals against per game with 1.96, eighth in scoring margin with 1.50, fifth on the power play with a 25% conversion rate and fifth on the penalty kill at 88.6%.

On offense, Quinnipiac also has 11 skaters with 10+ points as well as three skaters (senior forward Odeen Tufto, junior forward Ethan de Jong and junior defenseman Zach Metsa) with more points than Minnesota State’s leading scorer (junior forward Julian Napravnik).

Looking at both teams’ schedules, it is increasingly obvious that their strength of opponents all year is nothing too special.

Both teams did play a highly regarded Bowling Green team. Quinnipiac dropped that weekend series as it was the first week back since March 2020, as well as its third and fourth games in six nights.

As for Minnesota State, it faced off against Bowling Green as the Falcons entered a tailspin. After winning 12 of their first 13 games, the Falcons dropped eight of their next 12 contests, including a sweep from Bemidji State and two losses to Minnesota State.

Neither team was majorly tested this season, and that makes Saturday’s matchup even more interesting.

“It’s the playoffs,” senior forward Odeen Tufto said. “Everyone’s 0-0. What they did in the regular season doesn’t really matter too much right now.”(Photo from Instagram @qu_mih)

Let’s return to Mckay. While he had a remarkable season, in games in which he didn’t record a shutout, his stats are below average. His two best games of the season were against Bowling Green during which he stopped 50 of the 51 shots he faced.

However, in just over 785 minutes of playing time in games without recording a shutout, McKay saved 239 shots on 270 attempts for a .885 SV% and a 2.37 GAA. Not to mention, he only stopped 10 of 14 shots against Northern Michigan in the semi-finals in the WCHA tournament.

Comparing that to Petruzzelli, his stats in non-shutout games are 528 saves on 578 shots for a .913 SV% and a 2.21 GAA. Not outstanding, but still very strong numbers.

Minnesota State limits opponents to 19.1 shots per game, your goalie cannot have a shutout or bust night. The Mavericks have the best shot differential in the country and have a very good defensive core, so it makes sense that this team has nine shutouts this season.

If Quinnipiac manages to shoot early and often and can beat McKay at least once during the first period, it’s going to be an uphill battle all night for the Mavericks. Quinnipiac is a shot-heavy team, and with junior forward Wyatt Bongiovanni back in the lineup, this offense could get red hot. Especially on the power play.

The Bobcats’ main issue all season is their effort in first periods. It’s wildly inconsistent. Quinnipiac has failed to score a goal in the opening period in nine of its 19 conference games this season.

Pecknold has a tough test ahead of him and preparing his team to come out storming is the top priority. This Bobcats team is near flawless when scoring first and leaving the first period with a lead.

“It’s the playoffs,” Tufto said. “Everyone’s 0-0. What they did in the regular season doesn’t really matter too much right now. You’ve got to go out and establish your presence early and be hard on pucks. Play physical because that’s what playoff hockey turns into. We know what we need to do, we’ve talked about it all week and we’re going to go and try to execute as best we can tomorrow.”