Championships aren’t won in October: Weekend struggles in Maine don’t define men’s ice hockey


Cameron Levasseur

Quinnipiac men’s hockey fell to No. 6/7 in this week’s national rankings.

Cameron Levasseur, Sports Editor

 If you asked anyone who would hand Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey its first loss prior to the start of the season, their answer probably would not have been Maine. Matchups with the likes of North Dakota and Boston College looked like the big tests on paper, but it was the Black Bears who were the first team to shut down the six-time Cleary Cup champions. 

Maine played its best hockey of the year Saturday night, while the Bobcats played their worst, translating to a 4-0 loss after 60 minutes. Quinnipiac’s game rhythm was out of sync all night. Miscues all over the ice made for an ugly game to watch and low effort in the third period allowed the Black Bears to walk over them. 

“Maine was really good,” head coach Rand Pecknold said. “(They) took away time, space and were physical. We struggled to get out of our own way … the guys know they didn’t play well, we just talked about preparing better for games.” 

On Sunday, the Bobcats flipped the script. The mistakes were still present, but they were able to execute when it mattered. Four second-period goals on nine shots dug the Black Bears into an unrecoverable hole and allowed Quinnipiac to leave Orono with the series split and its dignity intact. 

It wasn’t the play of Maine junior goaltender Victor Ostman that stymied the Bobcats, it was their shot placement. On Saturday, it seemed as if every shot they took was directly at the body or pads of the Swedish-born goaltender. 

Sunday was the opposite. Quinnipiac picked apart Ostman in transition with missiles over his shoulders. 

The mark of a good team is being able to capitalize on opportunities when they’re handed to them, even when other facets of the game aren’t going its way. The Bobcats were able to do that Sunday. 

“We made plays and finished our chances,” Pecknold said. “(Saturday) we didn’t finish our chances.” 

Debatably the biggest loss of the series for Quinnipiac wasn’t on the scoreboard. Graduate student defenseman and team captain Zach Metsa left the opening game after taking a high hit late in the third period. 

Metsa didn’t dress the following day and Pecknold had no update on his condition following the game. The Delafield, Wisconsin, native has three points in five games this season and is coming off a season where he garnered all ECAC Hockey First Team honors and finished third among NCAA defensemen in scoring. 

Taking his place on the top pairing was graduate student Jacob Nordqvist, who alongside a newly healthy Jake Johnson make up a duo of experienced graduate transfers for the Bobcats. 

Graduate student defenseman Jake Johnson returned from an injury on Oct. 14, against then-No. 3 North Dakota. (Jack Spiegel)

Another summer addition, sophomore forward Collin Graf, is making noise as well. The Union transfer had a multi-point performance on Sunday against Maine and sits just below point-per-game pace after six games. 

Both of his goals this season have been scored from around the left faceoff dot, each as a quick release or one-timer off a cross-ice pass. If the Bobcats can harness Graf’s goal-scoring ability from that position, they should be able to elevate their capacity to convert on the power play from what it was last season. 

While not an ideal loss for Quinnipiac to have on its record, championships are not won in October. Regardless of whether they swept this series, there would still be things to mend. Getting shutout by a Hockey East bottom feeder just accentuates those aspects of the Bobcats’ game and serves as a wakeup call that no team in the current NCAA landscape will be a pushover. 

“Six games in, it’s been a rollercoaster,” Pecknold said. “We’ve got to grow up a bit and mature and bring it every night.” 

Maturing and learning from mistakes is a direct product of losing. When a talented team like the Bobcats endures regular season struggles, more often than not their resolve is strengthened as a result. How Quinnipiac closed this series suggests it’s on that track. 

That’s not to say they won’t lose games to inferior opponents or face adversity down the road, but it does mean they’re growing as a team. There’s a reason the season is five months and nearly 40 games long. 

The Quinnipiac team that we’re seeing now is not the same one that will take the ice come the postseason. Every loss, every setback, is a chance to get better and move toward the “team identity” that Pecknold mentions after nearly every game. 

When you’re the No. 3 team in the country, you have a target on your back, and the Bobcats learned that this weekend. Every team they face wants the glory of dethroning a national powerhouse. Finding the ability to play through that and win regardless creates a battle-tested squad that can prove that title on the big stage.