Much like last night, Saturday’s contest between Quinnipiac and North Dakota was a hard-fought, gritty battle. But unlike a day prior, it was the Fighting Hawks who pulled out the win, their fourth of the season, by the score of 3-1.
A moment of silence was held prior to puck drop in tribute to Michael Torello, a valued member of the Bobcat family who passed away earlier this year.
“I thought it was awesome,” Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey coach Rand Pecknold said. “I’m appreciative that we did that, and we’re certainly thinking of Michael.”
Torello joined the organization in 2017 through Team IMPACT, a program that connects children facing serious and chronic illness with college athletic teams to combat the emotional trauma and social isolation caused by the diseases.
“He meant the world to us,” senior centerman and captain Wyatt Bongiovanni said. “Years after years of guys he made an impression on, and he’s been a part of this family longer than I have. To see the impact he has on everyone, it’s just really special.
Moments into the game, A North Dakota defenseman hammered Quinnipiac senior winger Ethan De Jong into the boards behind the away net, leading to a bench-side scuffle that set the tone for the rest of the night.
“North Dakota is a physical team, they’re going to come out and play hard,” Pecknold said. “They played harder tonight than they did last night … They lost the first game of the series, they don’t want to get swept.”
The Bobcats struck first minutes later. An offensive blue line turnover for the Hawks led to a broken Quinnipiac two-on-one that found Bongiovanni for a rebound chance in front, which he put home.
It wouldn’t take long for the Fighting Hawks to respond. Looking to make an outlet pass after corralling the puck on a dump in, Quinnipiac graduate student goaltender Dylan St. Cyr fed North Dakota senior winger and captain Mark Senden a tape-to-tape pass on the left dot for an easy goal to tie the game at one less than two minutes later.
Neither team could take advantage of power-play opportunities late in the period, so the score would stand heading into the first intermission.
Out of the gate, the second period brought chaos.
Chances for both sides marked the first few minutes, including a puck thrown in front of the Quinnipiac net that nearly deflected in off sophomore winger Ty Smilanic’s skate.
Shortly after, four North Dakota players crashed the Bobcats’ net on a rebounding shot, breaking the deadlock after jabbing and poking at St. Cyr for several seconds.
After review, the goal stood, and chants of “ref, you suck” rang throughout the People’s United Center in response.
“I think they made the right call,” Pecknold said. “The only thing you could argue is maybe, ‘did the referee lose sight of the puck,’ but I think they have to let that play out a little bit.”
That call seemed to deflate the Bobcats’ energy. They did not generate many offensive chances until the waning minutes of the period, where North Dakota gifted Quinnipiac a five-on-three opportunity with two of the Fighting Hawks three NHL-drafted defensemen in the box.
After failing to convert on the power-play chance, things started to get chippy as Quinnipiac tried to fight its way back into the game.
Freshman winger Christophe Tellier attempted a lacrosse goal coming around the net on his forehand, but couldn’t get the puck up, and all hell broke loose as the puck was thrown into the net-front.
When the scrum ended and players on both sides picked themselves off the ice, Tellier and North Dakota sophomore defenseman Tyler Kleven were put in timeout and the game resumed four-on-four.
The Fighting Hawks used the extra ice to their advantage, as sophomore defenseman Jake Sanderson fed graduate student winger Connor Ford backdoor to extend their lead to two with little time left on the clock.
Sanderson, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft by the Ottawa Senators, earned his second assist of the night, and seventh point in six games on the play.
Despite late opportunities with the goalie pulled and a last minute power play, the Bobcats couldn’t sneak anything by senior goaltender Zach Driscoll, who saved 34 of 35 shots on the night to help North Dakota leave Hamden with a win.
“They wanted it,” Pecknold said. “They were hungry, they competed, they were physical. They got a couple breaks, which happens in the game of hockey, and they capitalized on them … We’re disappointed to not come out with a better result for us but you have to tip your hats to North Dakota.”
Quinnipiac has a quick turnaround before it hits the ice again, facing Holy Cross at home on Tuesday in head coach Bill Riga’s return after spending the last thirteen seasons with the Bobcats, the final seven of which as associate head coach.
“Billy Riga, right, he knows everything we do,” Pecknold said. “They’ll be good, they’re going to play hard, and they’ll be excited to play us and we’ve got to make sure we’re ready to respect that.”