‘Just be a champion every day’: Quinnipiac men’s hockey looks to turn historic regular season into first Whitelaw Cup since 2016

Cameron Levasseur, Sports Editor

In 2016, the Quinnipiac men’s hockey team rode a three-goal second period surge to topple Harvard and capture the first Whitelaw Cup in program history. That same year, the Bobcats won three NCAA Tournament games and earned a berth to the national title game, in which they lost 5-1 to North Dakota. 

Nearly seven years have passed since now-professionals Devon Toews, Connor Clifton, Sam Anas and company stepped off the ice at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, heartbroken but proud of their historic run. In the time since, Quinnipiac has won 163 games, appeared in two ECAC Hockey championship games and three NCAA Tournaments – but is yet to lift the coveted trophy in Lake Placid for a second time; nor has it returned to the Frozen Four, the pinnacle of college hockey. 

With a sweep of RPI and Union this past weekend, the 2022-23 Bobcats finished the regular season 28-3-3, which is in the conversation for the best regular season in program history. Also in that conversation? The 2015-16 squad, which went 25-2-7. 

The parallels are there. This Quinnipiac squad is debatably the most complete team it’s put on the ice since 2016. The Bobcats are No. 2 in the polls, No. 2 in PairWise and are top three in a plethora of meaningful team statistics, including scoring offense, scoring defense, face-off percentage and shooting percentage. 

“We’re such a close knit group,” sophomore forward Jacob Quillan said after a 5-2 win over Brown on Feb. 18. “We’re battling every day, practicing every day, getting better. I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.” 

Its PairWise position has Quinnipiac poised to enter the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed at the Bridgeport Regional, putting it in front of a home crowd with a trip to the Frozen Four on the line. 

If the Bobcats win out at regionals, they’ll return to Tampa, back to the same arena that saw so much anguish in 2016, with a chance to flip the script and bring home the program’s first national championship. 

But all of that is weeks away, too distant to consider for a team that has maintained a “one game at a time” mentality all season. 

So for the moment, it’s all eyes on the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals, where Quinnipiac awaits the lowest seed to escape the preliminary round. 

That means one of No. 8 Union, No. 9 Princeton, No. 10 Yale, No. 11 Brown or No. 12 Dartmouth will enter M&T Bank Arena looking to upset the Bobcats in a three-game series starting March 10. 

Unlike previous years, it really could be any of those teams making the trip to Hamden. The tournament format was amended earlier this season to change the first round from a best-of-three series to a single-elimination format. In a league where the bottom of the standings are wide open, a winner-take-all opening round has all the potential for upsets. 

Regardless of its opponent, all the momentum is on Quinnipiac’s side. The Bobcats are a combined 10-0-0 against their potential quarterfinal opponents and have just completed the best regular season of any ECAC Hockey team in more than three decades. 

They finished the regular season 20-2-0 in conference play, becoming the first ECAC Hockey team to register 20 wins in-conference since Harvard in 1988-89 and only the 10th team to do it in the conference’s 62-year history. 

Offensively, the Bobcats are firing on all cylinders, getting production from up and down the lineup. Sophomore forward Collin Graf has continued to pace Quinnipiac’s offense. The Union transfer has 49 points in 34 games this season, chasing down the program single-season points record of 59. 

Sophomore forward Collin Graf is 11 points away from setting a new single-season program record. (Benjamin Yeargin)

Graf’s linemates, freshman Sam Lipkin (34 points) and Quillan (29), have cemented the Bobcats’ top line as one of the nation’s best. Lipkin has put himself at the front of the ECAC Hockey Rookie of the Year conversation with seven goals and 10 points in his past seven games. 

Beyond its youth, Quinnipiac’s upperclassmen have produced on a similar level all season. Graduate student forward Ethan de Jong and senior forward Skyler Brind’Amour have both already set career highs in points, while graduate student forwards TJ Friedmann and Michael Lombardi and defenseman Zach Metsa have all eclipsed the 20-point plateau. 

Assistant coach Mike Corbett credits the team’s veterans for the attitude that’s led the Bobcats to 28 wins this season. 

“Those guys have kept it in perspective since day one,” Corbett said on Feb. 18. “It’s kind of a never-finished mentality. And it’s not finished until we get to the last game of the season and hopefully it works in our favor.” 

On the defensive end, the Bobcats have been just as successful. Sophomore goaltender Yaniv Perets has been playing at the level that garnered him nomination as a finalist for the 2022 Richter Award (given to the best goaltender in college hockey) as Quinnipiac’s team defense has rounded into form over the back half of the season, allowing an NCAA-leading 1.6 goals per game. 

Every aspect of the Bobcats’ game suggests a deep postseason run. The storylines, the statistics, the eye test all say that this team is going far. All that’s left to do is play the games and prove it. 

“Just be a champion every day,” Corbett said on Feb. 18. “If you’re a champion every day then you’re going to win championships. It’s inevitable, and our guys do it every day.”