No. 7 men’s ice hockey team thrills first home crowd in 601 days with 5-2 win over No. 6 North Dakota

Aidan Sheedy, Staff Writer

Senior defenseman Zach Metsa had three assists in Quinnipiac’s 5-2 upset win over North Dakota. Photo from Daniel Passapera

For the first time in 601 days, golden towels were spun at every seat of the People’s United Center. A total of 3,500 fans came out to Hamden Friday night as the Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey team won its regular season home opener against No. 6 North Dakota.

The last time the Bobcats had fans in attendance was on Feb. 29, 2020, against Whitney Avenue rival Yale. Nevertheless, the building’s foundation was tested Friday night from an immense amount of clamor from the student section, which had tickets sell out minutes after becoming available.

“The student section was rocking and the building was rocking,” said Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey head coach Rand Pecknold. “I don’t even know how long it’s been since we’ve had a home game with fans, so that was excited to get back a little bit to normalcy.”

Quinnipiac came out victorious, defeating powerhouse North Dakota by a score of 5-2. Scoring for the Bobcats was graduate transfer forward Oliver Chau, junior forward Joey Cipollone, junior defenseman Jayden Lee and superstar sophomore forward Ty Smilanic.

For the Fighting Hawks, reshman forward Matteo Costantini and sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson scored. It is worth noting that three different Bobcats scored their first goal of the season.

The night started off one-sided as Quinnipiac outshot North Dakota 10-3 through the first 10 minutes. Despite few chances, the Fighting Hawks struck first after a costly turnover in the neutral zone put the Bobcats down by one. Then, Quinnipiac got a chance of its own on a 2-on-1 rush. It was defenseman Brendan Less joining the rush who played a beautiful pass onto Chau’s tape to tie it up at one apiece.

At the 5:35 mark of the second period, Cipollone fought past two North Dakota defenseman to pick up the loose puck, which he corralled and executed a perfect no-look shot for the goal to give the Bobcats a 2-1 lead they would refuse to give up. Later in the period, Lee rifled home the one-timer from the left faceoff dot on the power play to double the Bobcats’ lead to 3-1.

Heading into the third period up by two, the Bobcats were relaxed, but not comfortable. They knew they would need more in order to ensure a victory against one of the best teams in the nation.

After an uneventful first half of the period, the Bobcats found themselves on yet another power play after an aggressive scrum after a whistle. It was Smilanic who deposited the puck into the back of the net to make it a 4-1 game.

A few minutes later, the Fighting Hawks found themselves up a man. Sanderson, the 2020 No. 5 pick in the NHL draft kept the light on for his team late in the third period. But an empty-netter by Chau would put the icing on the cake for the Bobcats in their home opener.

Undoubtedly, the biggest performance of the night came from Chau, who recorded his first goal and point as a Bobcat. Chau netted two goals, had one assist and five shots on goal. As one of five transfers on this veteran-heavy squad, Chau, transferring from UMass, seems to feel right at home.

“The guys on this team are awesome,” Chau said. “I’ve always felt welcome. Everyone’s always giving me pointers on what to do and even what classes to take.”

Unsurprisingly, Quinnipiac skaters felt as if the fans were the seventh man on the ice. Senior defenseman and assistant captain Zach Metsa, who recorded a trifecta of helpers Friday night, expressed his appreciation for the fans and the value they hold toward the team’s success.

“You almost can’t describe it. While it was fun playing last year … there’s nothing like stepping out and seeing all the yellow towels going around,” Metsa said. “Having energy back in the building was a big thing. It’s unbelievable how lucky we are to have the rink and the support that we get.”

The No. 7 Bobcats will relight the fire against the perennial Frozen Four candidate Saturday night at 7 p.m. Pecknold preached to his team in order to continue their recent success, they must play true to their identity.

“If we let our culture come through, we will get rewarded,” Pecknold said.