‘It just felt like culture had won,’ Quinnipiac hockey alumni react to Bobcats’ national championship win


Photoillustration by Cameron Levasseur, photos by Alex Bayer, Morgan Tencza, Nick Solari

Former Quinnipiac captain Wyatt Bongiovanni (second from left) watched the Bobcats win the national championship from his apartment in Winnipeg: “I had the confidence and belief that they were destined to do something,” he said. “They didn’t get there just to roll over after going down 2-0.”

Cameron Levasseur, Sports Editor

Wyatt Bongiovanni held back tears as he sat in the press conference following Quinnipiac men’s hockey’s 7-4 loss to Michigan in the 2022 Allentown Regional Final. 

The world didn’t know it yet, but Bongiovanni’s college career was over. Less than three weeks later, the senior captain signed an entry-level deal with the Winnipeg Jets, choosing to forego a fifth season with the program and begin his professional career. 

On April 8, 2023, nearly 400 days after he took off the blue and gold sweater for the final time, Bongiovanni watched alone from his apartment in Winnipeg as his Bobcats took on Minnesota in the national championship game in Tampa, Florida. 

When sophomore forward Jacob Quillan scored the winner 10 seconds into overtime, he didn’t know what to do.

“I honestly can’t even explain it,” Bongiovanni said. “I was just kind of stunned, I kind of stood there with my mouth open and I didn’t really say anything for like 20 minutes, I just watched the celebration.”

Over 4,100 miles away in Krefeld, Germany, Odeen Tufto was in a similar state, a combination of awe and exhaustion. The game ended at 4:44 a.m. local time. 

“I couldn’t believe it, I was in such shock how fast everything happened,” Tufto said. “I definitely had some tears that I was holding back.” 

Tufto is a point-per-game player for Krefeld Pinguine of the DEL2, but two years ago he too wore the “C” for Quinnipiac, a team that also came up short — in overtime to Minnesota State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. 

Both he and Bongiovanni share the pain of tough career-ending losses, and now the joy of seeing their school reach the top of the mountain. 

“It’s monumental to finally get the first one out of the way,” Tufto said. “It’s such a huge thing, not only for the program, but for (head coach) Rand (Pecknold) too … It’s such a cool moment for those guys. Beyond happy for the coaching staff, the players, everybody in between.”

Forward Odeen Tufto recorded 168 points in 139 career games with Quinnipiac, including a program-record 129 assists. (Morgan Tencza)

“The first one” nearly came seven years ago, when the Bobcats fell to North Dakota in the national title game, also in Tampa, something that was on the mind of the guys who played in that game.

“Yeah of course, because they showed replays of it about every frickin 10 minutes,” said Michael Garteig, the goaltender of the 2016 team.

Garteig, like Tufto, was in Germany, wrapping up his season with ERC Ingolstadt in the DEL. He too stayed up until the early hours of the morning to watch his alma mater make history. 

“Everything just seemed like it lined up,” Garteig said. “You just had a weird feeling watching the game that this was the time it was going to get done.”

Back in the U.S., Sam Anas raced home from Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania. His Hershey Bears, the AHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals, had just defeated the Charlotte Checkers 5-2, but he had another game on his mind. 

“(I) watched a bit from the rink at the end and then got home around the start of the third period,” Anas said. “I was watching with my dad and my fiancée. It’s pretty special for my dad and I just with all the stuff we had been through at school.”

Anas, the leading scorer on the 2016 team, is all too aware of what it takes to even be on the verge of winning a national championship. He battled an upper-body injury for all four games of the NCAA Tournament his junior season, only for it to end with even more painful disappointment, making this victory all the more special.

“I jumped up off the couch and pretty much screamed and hugged my dad, then hugged my fiance,” Anas said. “It’s always kind of been the knock, that we haven’t been able to win that last game, so it’s great that we’ve finally got that national title. Everything that Rand has been through to bring Quinnipiac to the powerhouse that it is now, it’s just amazing.”


Eric Hartzell sat in his basement watching the game on a projector screen. He had complete faith in his former team. 

“I was in a big Gopher group chat, so I was the only Bobcat in the chat, and I had actually predicted the game to be a 3-2 win for Quinnipiac,” Hartzell said. “I had full confidence, and lo and behold, I looked down and up and we had scored a goal, pretty crazy.”

Hartzell was between the pipes for the Bobcats when they made their first trip to the Frozen Four in 2013. He was a part of the group that established Quinnipiac on the national stage, but his career in Hamden also ended in anguish. 

“I’m not going to say bittersweet, but it definitely brought back a lot of haunting memories,” he said. “2013, obviously we beat Yale that year three times and then lost to them in the national championship game.” 

His connection to Quinnipiac still runs deep, despite leaving the school a decade prior.

“Seeing Rand happy like that was awesome for me,” Hartzell said. “I don’t know many guys on that team, but it was fun to finally see the boys put up a national championship banner.”

There’s just something about Quinnipiac, something that sticks with players long after they graduate. A culture that’s been building for decades, and it finally paid off. 

“Everyone’s so close knit because it’s such a smaller school,” said Brandon Wong, who played for the Bobcats from 2006-2010. “For so long they were pushing to get to somewhere like that … and just how the vision of it all was to one day win a national championship … it’s pretty incredible to see.”

“It means the world for Quinnipiac,” said Guus van Nes, who was with the program from 2018-2022. “What they did, you can’t really put a value on it … and the way that they got it, by beating all those Big 10 schools, it really made a statement.”

Forward Guus van Nes currently plays for Pioneers Vorarlberg of the ICEHL. (Daniel Passapera)

Van Nes watched the game from Austria, Garteig and Tufto in Germany, Bongiovanni in Winnipeg, Anas in Pennsylvania, the list goes on. It doesn’t matter how many miles they are from Hamden or how many years since they left the program, there’s an inseparable bond Quinnipiac creates with its players, a connection that makes this victory feel like their own.

“You feel so proud, there’s not one ounce of jealousy,” Garteig said. “I’m obviously really upset that I never got to win the national championship, but I feel like, in a weird way, you have a little bit of a part in it, even though obviously those players did everything. It just felt like culture had won, culture beat talent that night.”