Pete’s Pond: The next generation of Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey is on its way

Peter Piekarski, Associate Sports Editor

Head coach Rand Pecknold and the Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey team are in a peculiar position as the offseason continues.

With the departure of former captain Odeen Tufto, assistant captain Peter DiLiberatore and most likely goaltender Keith Petruzzelli in the coming weeks or months, Quinnipiac has lost three of its core players from the last three to four years.

Tufto, who will go down in Quinnipiac record books for assists and points over his four outstanding seasons as a Bobcat, signed a one-year entry-level contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning to play on their AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch.

During his tenure, Tufto tallied 160 points in 131 games, finishing third all-time in points among Quinnipiac Division I players and second all-time in assists among Quinnipiac DI players. Additionally, as a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker award which is given to the best player in college hockey, Tufto leaves a gaping hole down the middle for Quinnipiac as he was also among one of the best in the country at faceoffs.

DiLiberatore took a different path, opting out of his final year at Quinnipiac and signing his three-year entry-level contract with the Vegas Golden Knights who drafted him 180th overall in the sixth round of the 2018 NHL Draft.

Junior defenseman Zach Metsa is ready to take over the backline after senior defender Peter DiLiberatore’s departure. (Connor Lawless (2019))

The junior defenseman compiled 60 points in 101 games and was an important facet for the team’s breakout and power play. Seemingly, rising senior Zach Metsa will take over that role, but only having one of the two is not the most desirable situation for any team.

Petruzzelli is a wild card at this point. There’s no official word on what the Detroit Red Wings’ plan on doing with their third-round selection from the 2017 NHL Draft. Detroit is rebuilding, and it would make sense to see what it has in the 22-year-old goaltender.

As a top-10 Hobey Baker finalist as well as a Mike Richter finalist which is given to the best goaltender in college hockey, Petruzzelli dominated during his junior and senior seasons. Pecknold has a lot of questions to be answered and positions to be filled just on these positions alone.

The remaining roster is still in question as several players have entered the transfer portal. Logan Britt (junior defenseman), Daniel Winslow (senior forward), Tyler Ghiardhosi (sophomore forward), Corey Clifton (sophomore forward), Josh Mayanja (graduate goaltender) and Evan Fear (junior goaltender) are most likely departing the team.

Of those named, Britt’s departure causes the biggest issue as the sophomore solidified the back end, providing a physical defensive-minded presence alongside more offensively-involved defensemen.

So far, according to the Quinnipiac Hockey Blog, five players transferred to Quinnipiac as graduate students, two of which are interconference players from both Brown University and Dartmouth University.

Starting with the most important transfer based on position, Dylan St. Cyr departs Notre Dame to likely become Quinnipiac’s starting goaltender. St. Cyr started as a senior, facing just north of 27 shots per game posting a respectable 2.44 goals against average (GAA) and a .923 save percentage (SV%).

St. Cyr will have to fill a massive hole in between the pipes with Petruzzelli most likely on the way out, and no official backup has been named with the remaining two goaltenders entering the transfer portal.

UMass transfer Oliver Chau will play a big role in the Bobcats’ offense next season. The 5-foot-9 forward collected 26 points in 28 games with the Minutemen, including an assist on the only goal in the Hockey East championship game. Not to mention, he tallied five points in three of the four NCAA playoff games UMass played en route to a Frozen Four championship.

Chau will most likely play top-six minutes consistently, including power-play ice time. That all depends on any newcomers whether they’re other transfers and or incoming freshmen.

On the blue line, Quinnipiac added both size and depth to an already loaded core. With Metsa starring on the top pair, senior Marcus Chorney, juniors Jayden Lee and C.J. McGee as well as sophomores Iivari Räsänen and Nick Bochen, the missing pieces are size and depth.

The Bobcats received both with University of Denver transfer Griffin Mendel to replace Britt’s style of play, Brown transfer Tony Stillwell and Brandon Less from Dartmouth to round out the blue line.

Mendel provides a much bigger and physical presence to the lineup as the 6-foot-4, 240-pound blue liner will be the tallest and heaviest player on the roster. During the 2019-20 season, Denver named Mendel the defensive player of the year and was subsequently named an assistant captain in the following season.

Stillwell and Less add a lot of experience to a fairly young roster, especially playing within the ECAC Hockey.

Pecknold has a lot of integration work to do in order to develop a new team identity for the upcoming season. There are several exciting pieces and potential breakout players already on the roster including Metsa, Lee, Bochen and Räsänen on the blue line and forwards Wyatt Bongiovanni (senior) and Ty Smilanic (sophomore).

Morgan Tencza (2020)

Not to mention, Quinnipiac has three freshmen forward commits joining the roster this offseason, two of which are wingers.

Quinnipiac is loaded on the wing, mostly with upperclassmen.

At the moment, filling in the eight winger slots, Quinnipiac has nine available forwards in Bongiovanni, Smilanic, Ethan Leyh (junior), Gus Van Nes (junior), Ethan De Jong (senior), Matthew Fawcett (junior), Joey Cipollone (junior), Christophe Fillion (sophomore) and Mike Lombardi (senior).

The only upcoming center, Christophe Tellier, who turns 21 in a month, has been a force in the United States Hockey League (USHL). With 21 goals and 51 points in 51 games, Tellier ranks ninth in USHL scoring. The previous year, Tellier potted 28 goals and 71 points in 58 games in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL).

Liam McLinskey provides something that Quinnipiac has desperately needed for a few years. The 20-year-old speedy forward can shoot and score from anywhere. With the addition of Smilanic the previous year, the Bobcats continue to build upon forward size.

The 6-foot-3 winger leads the National Collegiate Development Conference (NCDC) in points with 67 in 44 games played. His 24 goals also rank fourth in the NCDC. McLinskey also dawns some hardware as he was awarded the NCDC player of the year.

The other upcoming freshman winger, 20-year-old Connor Tait, provides more size, with a 6-foot-3 frame and a two-way style with offensive upside. Tait finished this season 24th overall in the NCDC, scoring 31 points in 40 games.

It’s a new generation of Bobcat hockey — the team is getting bigger, and the future is brighter.