‘It was a true pleasure to wear this crest’: Wyatt Bongiovanni and Quinnipiac men’s hockey falls short of Frozen Four appearance

Peter Piekarski, Sports Editor

After roaring back from a 4-0 deficit, Michigan’s star power was too much for Quinnipiac to overcome.

Seven goals were scored in the final period, beginning with three straight from the Bobcats. Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold made the decision to pull the goaltender with four minutes left and all the momentum on his team’s side.

Michigan senior forward Michael Pastujov iced the game seconds after the ensuing faceoff with an empty-net goal to put his team up 5-3. Three more goals were scored over the last few minutes in an eventual 7-4 final.

“To lead this team and the success that we had throughout the entire year, it’s a blessing,” senior captain and forward Wyatt Bongiovanni said. “It’s something I’ll never forget. It’s something I’ll never take for granted … Forever grateful.”

Special teams impacted the outcome as well. Quinnipiac entered the game with the best penalty kill in the country and left the game allowing two power-play goals on as many opportunities. Additionally, the Bobcats’ man advantage failed to convert on three chances and allowed a short-handed goal, which gave the Wolverines a 4-0 lead.

Quinnipiac showed signs of life after junior defenseman Jayden Lee executed a spin move and shot the puck on net as he fell to the ice, which banked off the post and over the goal line. Then, Bongiovanni kept the ball rolling with a goal of his own.

Two minutes later, senior forward Desi Burgart tapped home a wrap-around pass from sophomore forward Ty Smilanic to pull the Bobcats within one. Ultimately, trailing all game caught up to Quinnipiac.

“It hurts right now, but it was a great year,” Pecknold said. “32 wins is impressive. This is a tough pill to swallow right now. Proud of the effort and what we did for Quinnipiac University this year.”

Scoring first weighed heavily into the success of both schools all season, combining for a record of 50-5-0. It took only 33 seconds for Michigan to net the opening goal.

Seven first and one second-round NHL draft picks stuffed the scoresheet for the Wolverines, combining for two goals and eight assists en route to clinching a spot in the Frozen Four.

In a game chock-full of goals, Michigan’s sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo was the most important player on the ice.

Though he only stopped 30 of the 34 shots he faced, his performance in the opening period to keep Quinnipiac off the board is the main reason the Wolverines are moving on.

“He’s the MVP of our team,” Michigan head coach Mel Pearson said.

After 40 minutes of not scoring and trailing by four, Quinnipiac entered the third with its back against the wall facing elimination. Pecknold made the decision to swap goaltenders from freshman Yaniv Perets to graduate student transfer Dylan St. Cyr.

“We got a little energy from putting Dylan in,” Pecknold said. “He’s a great kid. We’re just so lucky that we have two of the best __ goalies in the country. We just needed to change our energy level a little bit.”

Though the move initially worked, Quinnipiac couldn’t quite pull off the comeback and will have to watch the Frozen Four from home.

“Focusing on the relationships we built with the 28 brothers we have in the locker room,” Bongiovanni said. “It’s difficult to even look back at the game right now, there’s so many things running through my mind.”