‘Who got my twig?’: History-making memorabilia and the cat-and-mouse game that followed QU’s national championship win

Then-sophomore winger Jacob Quillan is still awaiting the arrival of his game-winning hockey stick.
Then-sophomore winger Jacob Quillan is still awaiting the arrival of his game-winning hockey stick.
Courtesy of Quinnipiac Athletics

What would your immediate reaction be if you witnessed the game-winning goal of the national championship? 

For 21-year-old Michigan native Ali Azeem, it was to watch out for the flying hockey stick hurling towards his head. 

“I don’t think I had an emotional reaction,” Azeem said. “I kind of put my hand up … the next thing I knew, it was in my hand. I was kind of like, ‘What happened?’”

On April 8, No. 2 Quinnipiac turned the college hockey world upside down, as the Bobcats knocked off No. 1 Minnesota just 10 seconds into overtime. Then-sophomore winger Jacob Quillan took a cross-ice pass and backhanded it past Minnesota then-senior goaltender Justen Close to seal the Bobcats’ first NCAA title. 

Just over an hour after the puck crossed the goal line, Quillan took to Twitter, now known as X, to ask the world a simple four-word question: “Who got my twig?”

“I wanted to find it,” Quillan said. “I feel like that would be the best way.” 

Now, one might ask, why would Quillan need to find his own stick? Well, thanks to one iconic skeet shooting celebration made famous by NHL legend Teemu Selanne, his “twig” was now in the hands of a complete stranger. 

“I didn’t even mean to throw it in (the stands),” Quillan said. 

Caught up in the emotion of scoring a game-winning goal — something Quillan admitted he dreamed up the night prior — he got down on one knee, pretending to shoot his own glove and threw the rest of his remaining gear up in the air. 

His gloves landed back on the ice. His stick, branded with his name and number, went flying. Right into the hands of Azeem. 

Michigan student Ali Azeem holds Jacob
Quillan’s game-used stick as Quinnipiac
celebrates its championship win on April 8. (Courtesy of Ali Azeem)

“I didn’t actually see who scored,” Azeem said. “I was actually sitting next to a Quinnipiac fan and I showed him. He was like, ‘That’s the guy who scored.’ I was like, ‘You gotta be joking.’” 

Amid all the hoopla, Quillan’s own stick — one of three items considered sacred among hockey players, along with the skates and jersey — was now in the possession of a pharmaceutical sciences student who attends the University of Michigan, a long way from Hamden. 

Does Quillan even want the stick back? 

“Yeah, I do,” Quillan said. “We were texting back and forth to start … I gave (head coach) Rand (Pecknold) his number, so hopefully Rand’s working his magic.” 

That magic by Pecknold, which includes offering Azeem a pair of tickets to a future Frozen Four appearance and potentially a signed helmet, is still a work in progress. While the stick sits dormant in Azeem’s dorm room, Quillan is holding out faith that it will return to its beholder. 

“Rand’s the top dog,” Quillan said. “If anyone can get it, he can.” 

Rules around catching game-used memorabilia at sporting events varies in each league. Catch a foul ball or an out-of-play puck and you are free to walk home with it. Grab a loose ball courtside in the NBA or — god forbid — a kicked ball from a field goal at a football game, and security will hound you. 

“I’ll use baseball as an example,” Cameron Boon, Quinnipiac associate athletic director of creative content and men’s ice hockey media contact, said. “You’ve seen it happen in football a couple times … Inadvertently, a fan catches it and they end up working out a way to get the ball back.” 

But what about special occasions, like a rookie’s first career home run or a game-winning ball? Do you give it back? For what cost? Do you demand something in return? 

“I reached out to him after the game to try and get the stick back,” Boon said. “He came back with a couple of things and that was kind of it. It never really went anywhere.” 

That was it from Boon’s line of communication. After that one email, it was in the hands of Quillan and Pecknold. Even Colorado Avalanche defenseman (and proud Bobcats alum) Devon Toews got in the mix, directly messaging Azeem himself. 

Toews was the catalyst, but it was a big goal for the program alums to help retrieve the stick. The pro player even offered Azeem a personalized jersey, something that seems outlandish for just a piece of fiberglass and carbon. But it’s not just any piece of fiberglass, and this wasn’t just any game. 

It’s different from a February game against ECAC Hockey rival Cornell. In that case, the team wins, goes back to the locker room and there’s ample time to find the stick’s new owner and work out a deal. 

But for the ice hockey program’s first-ever national title? It wasn’t that easy. 

Jacob Quillan was named the Hockey Commissioners Association National Player of the Month for both March and April of 2023. (Aidan Sheedy)

“When it’s an overtime goal like that, you have the mosh pit, then you have the celebration on the ice with the photo and lifting the trophy,” Boon said. “Then you have the celebration in the locker room. It’s one of those where it was kind of inadvertent, but like everybody is celebrating and everybody’s having such a good time that you then are leaving the ice and you’re like ‘Oh, shoot, the stick is gone.’” 

“I don’t think it matters, whether it’s a stick, a puck, his gloves, his helmet, if he takes his jersey off,” Boon added. “It doesn’t matter what it is, anything that’s associated with that game and with that moment, you’re obviously going to want back.” 

But Azeem kept it. Not because he wanted to be a jerk — he wants to give it back to Quillan — but he didn’t want what the Quinnipiac program was offering.

“They obviously wanted it back, which I was completely OK with,” Azeem said. “I was like, ‘I don’t even really know what I want … I don’t want to give it up for nothing.’”

That “nothing” wasn’t truly nothing. It was a signed puck and Stanley Cup hat from Toews. But Azeem’s allegiance with the Detroit Red Wings got in the way of accepting those gifts. He wanted something associated with Quillan and the Bobcats.

“(Azeem and I) were texting back and forth to start,” Quillan said. “To start, he wanted a jersey, helmet, pants, all that. People above me started working on it, and I guess nobody did anything.”

Obviously we’d love to have it back. It’s a weird situation … It’s a huge piece of Quinnipiac history and it’s a national championship-winning goal stick.

— Cameron Boon, associate athletic director of creative content

But getting a jersey — especially a Quinnipiac game-used jersey — is going to be difficult. Just ask Quillan.

“I tried to get a jersey for my grandfather and I couldn’t even get that,” Quillan said with a chuckle. “So I don’t know if I could give him a jersey for a stick back.”

At the end of the day, the main message from those inside the Quinnipiac program is they want the stick back. It’s an important memento of what was the team’s greatest moment.

“There’s obviously meaning to it,” Boon said. “For Quinnipiac, for the university, for Jake, for the area. Obviously we’d love to have it back. It’s a weird situation … It’s a huge piece of Quinnipiac history and it’s a national championship-winning goal stick.”

Azeem wants to give it back. It’s not part of his evil mastermind plan to blackmail a collegiate hockey team into giving him the moon and stars in return.

So if Azeem and Quinnipiac finally connect on their goal, what’s the plan? Where will the stick eventually go?

“If they get the stick back, I think they’re gonna frame it somewhere here (in M&T Bank Arena), it would be here forever,” Quillan said. “It’d be nice to have in my house later on, but if it stays here, that’ll be good too.”

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