‘I’ve never felt so important, and I think any girl on our team could say that:’ How the women’s ice hockey team’s selflessness has led to a program-record 15-1-2 start

Cameron Levasseur, Associate Sports Editor

When the Quinnipiac women’s ice hockey team hit the ice to kick off the 2021-22 season two and a half months ago, not even the Bobcats themselves would’ve predicted where they are now.

“I don’t think we were expecting it to come out like this,” junior forward Sadie Peart said. “I don’t even think we set that standard. That wasn’t our main goal.”

Regardless, here they are. Halfway through the regular season the Bobcats boast a 15-1-2 record, are atop the ECAC Hockey standings and ranked fifth in the USCHO and USA Today polls. It’s the best start in program history, trumping the 2014-15 season where Quinnipiac won 14 of its first 18 games and tied three.

“We knew that this team had a lot of potential,” head coach Cass Turner said. “But I think the part that we didn’t quite know was just how this group was going to come together, and I think that’s the difference right now … they’re just so connected with one another and it’s showing.”

That connection has been noticeable on both ends of the ice, as the Bobcats are top 10 in the nation in both goals for (61) and against (21), outscoring opponents 14-4 in their last four games.

“We’ve been really dialing in on different offensive plays to do, like our weak-side (defense) diving down,” Peart said. “And now we’ve been watching some NHL scout video and doing a better job at … having three people go low rather than just doing a 2-1 forecheck to have close support.”

Peart, the team’s leading scorer, has more than doubled her offensive production from last year’s COVID-19-shortened season, posting six goals and 12 assists for 18 points in as many games. The Grand Rapids, Minnesota, native attributes her success to a combination of preparation both on and off the ice.

“The assault bike, I’ve been doing that a lot, and morning skills with (assistant coach) Brent (Hill),” Peart said. “I’ve been really focused on my shot and just being the best player I can right now.”

For Quinnipiac, being the best player that you can means doing what’s right for the team. It’s a concept that has been crucial to its success all season.

“I’ve never felt so important, and I think any girl on our team could say that,” Peart said. “Everyone has a specific role and everyone is loving their role on the team, which is huge and I’ve never been a part of a team where everyone is happy with the role they’re in.”

The women’s ice hockey team received first-place USCHO poll votes for the first time since Oct. 10, 2016, this week. Photo from Alex Bayer

Attaining that level of buy-in starts with the message the coaching staff is delivering to the team. For the Bobcats, it’s about the journey.

“We just want to take pride in the process,” Turner said. “To get better every single day and when we step on the ice for a game it really truly doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we want to play our best hockey.”

With 15 wins in 18 games, that process has been successful so far, but only recently have the Bobcats recognized how well they can compete.

“When we beat Cornell and Colgate, I could not believe how well we did that weekend,” Peart said. “That was a big step for us, especially with injured girls. Another big one was Princeton. That was the team we all hated the most, and so beating them in their home rink was an incredible feeling.”

The one loss that Quinnipiac suffered so far came during the back half of that weekend series with Princeton. Even then, the Bobcats’ morale remained unchanged.

“Right after the game we talked about it, but nobody’s mentioned that game since … we learn from it and move on,” Peart said. “That’s one thing that’s different about the ECAC, you don’t play the same team back-to-back like other leagues, so having to play the same team back-to-back is pretty challenging.”

The Bobcats will ring in the new year and begin the second half of the season with a weekend series against the two-time reigning national champion, No. 1-ranked Wisconsin Badgers on the road in Madison.

“Our team has had Wisconsin circled on the calendar for a long time,” Turner said. “Anytime we’re talking about much in our season, they’re talking about how they’re going to beat Wisconsin.”

With all the fanfare surrounding this Wisconsin team, the Bobcats have to make sure that they stay true to who they are.

“I think not putting them on a pedestal,” Peart said. “Any team is beatable, any game can go either way. So I think sticking to our game plan of being fast, tough, relentless, knowing what our team’s good at.”

While that series may be on the forefront of everyone’s mind, when Quinnipiac finally takes the ice in the LaBahn Arena, it will have gone 34 days without any game action. There’s a lot of work to be done between now and then to stay sharp when the time comes.

“Maintaining our fitness is important,” Turner said. “And then continuing to offensively grow as a unit of five and moving the puck quickly, how to gain more comfort scoring more goals in different ways than we have so far. It’s always an evolution throughout the season but those are the things we’re really working on.”

With 15 wins in the books headed into the holiday break, the Bobcats’ play has been an early gift, but they’re not done yet. There’s something special brewing on the ice in Hamden, and come mid-March, Quinnipiac might be skating into the NCAA tournament.