Championship connections to Tampa back Quinnipiac men’s hockey as it heads to Frozen Four

April 5, 2023

 On July 7, 2021, Rob “Bubba” Kennedy triumphantly lifted the Stanley Cup at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. The Tampa Bay Lightning had just won their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship, making it the second trophy lift for Kennedy in a 16-year NHL career as an assistant equipment manager.

Alongside him stood Tom Mulligan, the Lightning’s head athletic trainer. It was the third time Mulligan hoisted hockey’s greatest prize since he joined the franchise in 2002.

As the Frozen Four returns to The Sunshine State this week, both are hoping to see a similar celebration. Only this time, the title would be in the hands of the Quinnipiac men’s hockey team.

Kennedy, who is responsible for maintaining uniforms, sharpening skates and other day-to-day maintenance duties, joined the Bobcats’ staff as the assistant equipment manager when his contract was not renewed following the 2021 cup run. Mulligan, who remains with the Lightning, is a 1997 graduate of Quinnipiac who served as a student athletic trainer for the men’s hockey team when the school was still a college and the mascot was the Braves.

“Is it a coincidence that we’re going to Tampa for the Frozen Four? I don’t know,” Kennedy said. “I’m a big believer that things happen for a reason. I ended up here for a reason. Maybe it was the experience to help this team get over the hump and win.”

It was in Tampa where the Bobcats came up just short seven years ago, falling to North Dakota in the national championship game on the same ice that Kennedy and Mulligan have seen so much success.

Quinnipiac is once again on the cusp of its first national championship in program history after falling on the big stage in 2013 and 2016.Both losses were crushing, but for the Bobcats to even reach that level is miles above what was thought possible less than two decades earlier.

“It was a little bit of a glorified high school feel,” Mulligan said of his time with the program. “I’ll be honest, I didn’t foresee them being a team that would compete for national championships on a consistent basis.”

Mulligan was with the team from 1994 to 1997, two years prior to its jump to the Division I level and 10 years before it moved into what is now M&T Bank Arena. His tenure also coincided with the arrival of head coach Rand Pecknold, who now nears the end of his 29th season at the helm.

Tampa Bay Lighting head athletic trainer Tom Mulligan tends to defenseman Victor Hedman after a collision against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Amalie Arena on March 30, 2021 in Tampa, Florida (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

“He’s developed along with the program and is so well respected now,” Mulligan said. “I know a couple of our coaches here in Tampa, recently and previously, have a ton of respect for Rand and have crossed paths with him through the college hockey circles … When you think Quinnipiac hockey, you think (of) Rand Pecknold.”

Pecknold and the Bobcats have come a long way from the mid-1990s, but still have yet to check that final box to cement their place as a national power. Doing so requires commitment at every level of the program. From players, to coaches, to staff, when everyone is on the same page, that’s when teams win.

“Everything starts with us,” Kennedy said. “So if we come in and we’re calm and we’re good and we’re ready and we’re prepared, our players will feel that and pick up our vibe and that’ll carry through.”

Kennedy hopes that his own championship experience will carry over into helping Quinnipiac succeed in the Frozen Four.

“There’s not many Stanley Cup teams that win a Stanley Cup without a previous Stanley Cup winner,” Kennedy said. “(Experience) helps because things are going to go sideways. Things are going to be haywire at times … you need people in different roles that have been there.”

His knowledge becomes even more important for the Bobcats as they head back into Kennedy’s old territory, an arena where he spent countless days working hundreds of games.

“I know exactly what to expect,” Kennedy said. “I know what they have on hand there, so there’s certain things I want to have access to that I’ve asked, and they’re going to let me have it … there’s nothing I’m not familiar with.”

Quinnipiac assistant equipment manager Rob Kennedy is returning to Tampa, Florida, where he worked for the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2007-2021, for the Frozen Four. (Daniel Passapera)

It’s up to him and the team’s student managers: his son Quinn Kennedy, a first-year finance major, and Justin Horn, a junior applied business major, to prepare Quinnipiac for puck drop. “Setting the tone,” as Rob Kennedy says, for a team looking to make history.

“Those guys that have been here for five years, it means the world to them,” Kennedy said. “We were talking about patches on the jerseys and that was the exact comment out of Lombo (graduate student forward Michael Lombardi) ‘I’ve waited a long time to be able to put that patch on my jersey.’”

But a patch on a jersey is far from Quinnipiac’s ultimate goal. Two games remain between the Bobcats and one final trophy lift, a fact not lost on anyone.

“I think it’s just staying focused on the task at hand and we haven’t gotten to where we ultimately want to be,” Kennedy said. “We’re not at the top of the mountain yet. We’re close, but we’re not there yet.”

One came from Tampa, the other left for it. Both are united in the hope that on April 8, Quinnipiac will be crowned champion in the city, just as they were before.

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