Rand Pecknold, Sam Lipkin reflect on experience at World Junior Championships


Morgan Tencza

The 2023 IIHF World Junior Championships were the third time Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold has been behind the bench of Team USA, the first as the team’s head coach.

Cameron Levasseur, Sports Editor

As most people around the world took time to unwind during the holiday season, Quinnipiac men’s hockey head coach Rand Pecknold and freshman forward Sam Lipkin did the opposite. 

The pair traded their familiar home of M&T Bank Arena for the ice of Atlantic Canada. The Bobcats’ blue and yellow for the red, white and blue of Team USA, looking to bring home a gold medal for their country at the IIHF World Junior Championships in Moncton, New Brunswick, and Halifax, Nova Scotia. 

Though they didn’t get gold, Pecknold and Lipkin brought home bronze medals for their efforts, the 14th time a U.S. team has medaled at the tournament – and first since the Americans won it all in 2021. 

“It was pretty awesome,” Lipkin said. “That was my first time putting on the USA sweater and obviously we didn’t take gold but just to medal in that tournament is a really big honor and I’m proud to represent the USA.”

Lipkin’s journey to donning his country’s colors started this past summer at the National Junior Evaluation Camp, where he had to fight amid a group of 22 forwards for 18 spots at the December pre-tournament camp roster, and then again to be one of 13 registered to compete at the tournament. 

While he plays under Pecknold at Quinnipiac, that familiarity did not mean Lipkin’s spot on the team came easy. 

“It was fun to coach Sam, I thought he did a great job of battling – from the summer camp to getting the invite to the 18 forwards that we had, and then to get down to 13,” Pecknold said. “He had to battle to get in that lineup but he did a great job and he’s a better player for it.”

As the extra forward for six of Team USA’s seven games, Lipkin saw significant usage on the penalty kill throughout the tournament, while also jumping in for odd shifts on various lines.

An injury to Ottawa 67’s forward Tyler Boucher in the semifinal game gave him the opportunity to jump onto the team’s second line for the bronze medal game against Sweden, playing alongside Chaz Lucius of the Manitoba Moose and North Dakota’s Jackson Blake, whom Lipkin and the Bobcats faced in October

Lipkin headed back from Halifax with one assist across seven games, but beyond the statsheet, he was able to experience a completely different style of hockey. 

“It’s a really good experience playing with those USA guys,” Lipkin said. “It’s a fast game, a lot less time and space, (the ECAC) is gritty, a lot more physicality and play like that. It was definitely a little bit of a change going from USA to this, but I’m happy how I did.”

Loaded with some of the NCAA’s best talent. Team USA featured 19 NHL drafted players, including 12 selected in the first two rounds. These include Minnesota freshman forward Logan Cooley, the Arizona Coyotes’ third overall pick in the 2022 draft, and Michigan sophomore defenseman Luke Hughes, who was taken fourth overall by New Jersey the year prior. 

This abundance of skill, combined with the short window to get the team ready for action, made Pecknold’s stint as Team USA’s coach quite the change of pace. 

“You can’t prepare for something like that,” Pecknold said. “It’s such a unique environment throwing players together … we’ve got some of the best players in the world, we’re playing other best players in the world.”

While Lipkin is a rookie on the Bobcats’ roster, with Team USA he was a veteran, at least in terms of knowing Pecknold’s systems. 

“(At Quinnipiac) as I’m teaching things to the new players, they’ll go back to a drill, go back in line and (graduate student defenseman) Zach Metsa or (graduate student forward) Mike Lombardi will say ‘no that’s not how we do it,’” Pecknold said. “So our players know it too … and they reinforce it. When you throw everybody together, I had Sam and that was it. You didn’t have guys going back and getting coached by your teammates, and that was probably the biggest thing we missed.”

But despite this, the 29th year NCAA Division I head coach had high praise for his team. 

“Elite talent, really high character, I was impressed with the character of the kids,” Pecknold said. “But they’re young and the amount of pressure on the tournament was off the charts.”

That pressure is no joke. The World Juniors is one of the largest international hockey tournaments in the world, bringing in hundreds of thousands of fans in person and millions watching from home. The overall viewing numbers for the 2023 tournament have yet to be released, but the 2021 iteration saw over 100 million viewers worldwide, per the IIHF’s final report.

Being involved in such a high profile experience around some of the game’s brightest minds gave Pecknold a lot to bring back to Quinnipiac. 

“From my perspective it was like a coaching think tank for 27 days,” Pecknold said. “I had a great staff, so we’re all sharing ideas. You’re seeing what other coaches (are doing and) noticing some different things from some of the European teams.”

Jumping back to the collegiate level and ECAC Hockey play this weekend just a day removed from the conclusion of the tournament, neither Pecknold nor Lipkin missed a beat. The former was behind the bench for the Bobcats’ home sweep of Dartmouth and No. 9/10 Harvard, while Lipkin rejoined the team for Saturday’s matchup with the Crimson, recording two assists in Quinnipiac’s 4-1 win. The Philadelphia native now has 21 points in 19 games this season. 

Quinnipiac freshman forward Sam Lipkin is eighth in the NCAA in scoring among freshman this season. (Cameron Levasseur)

“With Rand, we kind of played the same systems at USA, so I was a little bit tired from the travel and obviously the games, but I felt pretty good out there,” Lipkin said “I was excited to get back with the group.”

With a piece of international hardware under their belts, the pair now eye the one title that has eluded Pecknold’s trophy case at Quinnipiac: a national championship.