Quinnipiac to face Merrimack in first round of NCAA Tournament


Ethan Hurwitz

Quinnipiac men’s hockey is 3-4 against Merrimack all time, though the teams haven’t played since 2015.

Cameron Levasseur, Sports Editor

The Quinnipiac men’s hockey team will face Merrimack in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament Friday in Bridgeport, Connecticut. 

The Bobcats fell to eventual ECAC Hockey champion Colgate in the conference semifinals on March 17, but enter the NCAA Tournament as the No. 2 overall seed and the No. 1 seed in the Bridgeport regional due to their PairWise position. 

“Obviously whoever our opponent will be in the NCAA Tournament is going to be really good, really fired up,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said after Friday’s loss. “We’ve got to get our intensity back and more importantly I think our buy-in.” 

Merrimack is the No. 14 overall seed in the tournament, having been moved into the regional by the committee to prevent an intra-conference matchup between Quinnipiac and No. 15 Colgate in the first round. 

The Warriors head into the tournament on the back of one of their most successful seasons in program history. They won 21 games in the regular season before playing three straight games requiring overtime in the Hockey East Tournament, culminating in a 3-2 overtime loss to Boston University in the championship game. 

Quinnipiac is 3-4 against Merrimack all time, though the teams have not played since 2015, where the Bobcats were swept in a midseason home-and-home series. 

After starting the season 13-4, Merrimack struggled at the start of the new year, going 2-8-1 from Dec. 31 to Feb. 5 before winning seven straight games to earn a berth into the Hockey East championship. 

Led by junior forward Alex Jefferies (14 goals, 41 points), the Warriors’ well-balanced offense features a three-headed scoring monster of Jeffries, junior forward Matt Copponi and senior forward Ben Brar, each of whom have 14 goals this season. 

Merrimack’s biggest weakness is its power play, converting at an abysmal 13.5% this season, fourth worst in men’s Division I. Its penalty kill, while significantly better than their man-advantage, sits 25th in the nation at 81.5%, middle of the pack among tournament teams. 

The Warriors also struggle at the face-off dot, winning only 47% of their draws this season, a figure that puts them bottom 10 in the country. 

They’re not a team that wins because they dominate opponents in one statistical category. What sets Merrimack apart is its heart and grit. They grind out games and find ways to win. There’s a passion in that locker room unlike many others in the country. 

After the death of assistant coach Josh Ciocco in October, the Warriors rallied together and defied the odds. They were picked to finish eighth in the Hockey East preseason coaches poll, but ended up as the league runner-up, even peaking at No. 6 in the country at one point. 

“This has Josh’s fingerprints all over it,” head coach Scott Borek said to Mark Divver of the New England Hockey Journal after a win on Nov. 5. 

Puck drop is set for 5:30 p.m. on Friday. The winner of the game will face the winner of No. 7 Harvard vs No. 9 Ohio State in the regional final Sunday. 

The Crimson (24-7-2) fell to Colgate in the ECAC Hockey championship game, but were 9-0-1 in their previous 10 games dating back to a shutout loss to Quinnipiac on Feb. 3. 

Their top line duo of junior Sean Farrell (20 goals, 51 points) and sophomore Matthew Coronato (19 goals, 35 points) shredded opposing defenses all season, but only contributed to a single goal in two games in Lake Placid. They were also held off the score sheet in both meetings with the Bobcats this season. 

“They’re one of the most talented teams in the country,” Pecknold said after Quinnipiac’s 3-0 shutout of Harvard on Feb. 3. 

Ohio State (20-15-3) also came up short in its conference tournament, losing in blowout fashion to eventual Big Ten champion Michigan in the semifinal round. 

The Buckeyes are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2019, where they fell to Denver in the opening round. No active players remain from that team, nor the 2018 squad which made a run to the Frozen Four, but Ohio State’s offense has shown even greater potency in stretches this season, posting five or more goals eight times, including two nine goal explosions against Bowling Green and Bentley. 

Freshman forward Stephen Halliday (9 goals, 40 points), and graduate student forward Jake Wise (12 goals, 35 points) lead the Buckeyes attack, while Quinnipiac transfer, senior forward Matt Cassidy (3 goals, 14 points) has had the most productive season of his career. 

None of the four teams headed to Bridgeport this weekend won their respective conference tournaments, but each still has a chance to write their names in history. One will make the trip to Tampa, Florida, in two weeks time to fight for a national championship.