‘That’s a Cinderella story’: Fifth years leave a lasting legacy on Quinnipiac men’s hockey program


Aidan Sheedy

Graduate students, from left, forward Michael Lombardi, defenseman Zach Metsa and forwards Ethan de Jong, Desi Burgart and TJ Friedmann all returned to Quinnipiac for a fifth year 2022-23.

Colin Kennedy, Staff Writer

 TAMPA, Fla. – One year ago, the Quinnipiac men’s hockey team failed to reach the Frozen Four, losing to Michigan in the NCAA Regional Final. At that moment, seven seniors had a decision to make: stay at Quinnipiac for one last run at glory, or move on to their next chapters. 

TJ Friedmann, Zach Metsa, Michael Lombardi, Ethan de Jong and Desi Burgart all returned to the team. And because they stayed, they are now immortalized as national champions. 

“This is exactly what we came back for,” Friedmann said. “We knew we had unfinished business.” 

A common goal among all the fifth years was accomplishing a dream 29 years in the making — winning a national championship for head coach Rand Pecknold. 

“It’s great winning a national championship, but doing it for Rand after what he’s done with the program over the last 30 years is unbelievable,” Friedmann said. “That’s a Cinderella story.” 

This group of fifth-years had no shortage of tournament experience, with three appearances prior to the championship season. But all three times, the losses came in the regional round, with two in the regional final. 

“Coming up short for four years, I just couldn’t be more proud of this group,” Friedmann said. “Everyone doubted us and we came here and got the job done, it’s unbelievable.” 

In 2016, Quinnipiac lost the national championship to North Dakota in the same place that they won it this year. In many ways, it was the perfect bookend for the Bobcats who committed shortly after the loss. 

“I committed here in the winter of 2017, so following the (2016) championship appearance,” Lombardi said. “I’ve always been a fan of Quinnipiac and the way they play, and it was a dream for me to have the opportunity to come play here.” 

Joining the team at the beginning of the 2018 season, the players were indoctrinated with the Quinnipiac culture. It wasn’t long before they found out how special it was to don the gold and navy blue. 

“Our freshman year we had Chase Priskie who has played for the (Florida) Panthers, he just taught us the way,” Lombardi said. “A lot of the things we still do are carried on from things from alumni.” 

All week in Tampa, the fifth years harkened back to the alumni support, both from players they skated alongside and those who came before them. It gave them an added insight into what it meant to be a Bobcat, and to what has been building for the last three decades. 

2022 Stanley Cup champion Devon Toews even shared a phone call with the captains pre-game, giving them some advice for their games in Tampa. Toews gave them an insight on his perspective of falling short in the national championship in 2016. 

“As long as you show up and give it everything, don’t have any regrets on effort and commitment five, 10 years down the road, you guys will be totally fine,’” Metsa told Joe Smith of the Athletic. 

The fifth years are certainly continuing the tradition of instilling the culture in the younger players. With many picking up on it in just a matter of months. 

“Having a lot of seniors and fifth-years definitely have helped show me the way,” sophomore forward Collin Graf said. “Especially Ethan de Jong, really showing me what skills I can work on.” 

De Jong might be one of the better players to learn from, especially with his experience wearing the Bobcats’ uniform. The North Vancouver native set the program record for most games played with 184. 

Many of the other fifth years aren’t far behind de Jong in the record standings with Metsa at second with 177, Lombardi at second with 175 games and Friedmann in third at 170. 

“You don’t want to leave, if we could do a sixth year, I’d keep playing here if I could,” graduate student defenseman Zach Metsa said. “I’m sure Rand would want to kick us out the door at some point.” 

With 858 combined games played among the fifth years, it won’t be the easiest leaving the program. It certainly helps that they are leaving behind a lasting legacy with the university’s first national championship. 

“I love you guys. I love this program. I love this team,” Lombardi said to the team in the locker room after the Bobcats’ national championship win over Minnesota. “I’m sad this is the last time I’ll get to wear this jersey, but I’m glad we’re going out on top.”