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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Quinnipiac gaining ‘buy-in,’ playing complete hockey as season nears midpoint

Tripp Menhall
Quinnipiac’s top line of sophomore Sam Lipkin and juniors Jacob Quillan and Collin Graf have combined for 60 points so far this season.

A little more than a week after blowing a two-goal third period lead against Boston University, Quinnipiac men’s hockey bounced back with a commanding road sweep at RPI and Union in its final conference weekend of 2023.

The Bobcats outscored their opponents a combined 10-1 to secure their sixth and seventh ECAC Hockey wins of the season, barrelling toward the holiday break with seven wins in their last eight games.

After a rocky stretch to open the season that had some questioning the legitimacy of the reigning national champions, the reason for Quinnipiac’s recent run of success is two-fold.

For one, the prowess of the Bobcats’ recent opponents has not been exceptional. Cornell is the only ECAC team besides Quinnipiac ranked top-30 in the PairWise. Every other conference opponent its faced thus far sits in the bottom third of college hockey.

But with the exception of an early November tie at Dartmouth, the Bobcats have dominated in conference. They’ve scored at least five goals in every win and average a margin of victory over four goals.

Fueling that offense is a cohesive transition game that was missing in stretches during the early stages of the season. Defensive zone turnovers and lackluster passing haunted the Bobcats in losses against UNH and Maine. But against RPI and Union, their passing was crisp and puck protection was elite. 

“That’s how we play every game, that’s what we want to do,” head coach Rand Pecknold said.

What makes Quinnipiac’s offense so deadly is its ability to go north to south in a flash (Look at junior forward Jacob Quillan’s national championship-winning goal if you have any doubts). The Bobcats consistently look for stretch passes on the breakout, going cross-ice or up the middle to the centerman or far-side winger rather than activating a man off the half wall.

When they do attempt board-side breakouts, it most often results in a chip off the glass or boards or a delivery to the near side winger who is already in the neutral zone.

Quinnipiac has the luxury of limiting half wall breakout attempts because its 1-1-3 trap forces a tremendous amount of dump-ins and neutral zone turnovers. This gives the puck to the defenseman as the play is still moving south, leaving room for cross-ice passes that can catch the defending team on its heels as it shifts back toward its own zone.

Take, for example, sophomore forward Sam Lipkin’s goal against RPI on Dec. 1. Neutral zone pressure caused a dump in as the Engineers went for a line change. Senior defenseman Cooper Moore skated around the left side of the net and fired a pass up to Quillan waiting at the red line. Quillan gathered the puck and dropped it to graduate defenseman Jayden Lee, who took three strides to gain separation from a defender before sending a cross-ice pass on the tape of Lipkin for him to walk in and rip a shot bar down from the faceoff dot.

It’s not that those plays were missing at the start of the season, they just weren’t as plentiful. Overall improvement in team cohesion, boosted by the return of junior forward Collin Graf from injury, and the progression of elite level passing from the backend through November and early December has allowed this offense to shine.

Graduate student defenseman and captain Jayden Lee fistbumps a fan during warmups of Quinnipiac’s Dec. 2 game at Union. (Tyler Rinko)

That passing has improved as all of the Bobcats top six defensemen have stepped into larger offensive roles. Lee, junior Davis Pennington and sophomore Charles Alexis Legault have been catalysts on the rush, often skating the puck out of their own zone and accompanying the play well into the offensive zone.

Likewise, turning defense into offense has helped Quinnipiac keep the puck out of its own net. The Bobcats are allowing just 1.9 goals per game this season, second-best in the country and 0.3 below their final mark from last season.

“I think right now we’re really gelling together as a team defensively,” Moore said. “We’re kind of finding our stride and everyone’s buying in. It’s looking good for us.”

Moore, a North Dakota transfer, has helped fill the hole left by the graduation of Zach Metsa and Jake Johnson, both with his play and his leadership.

“Anyone as an upperclassman (wants to) take guys under your wing,” Moore said. “So if you see a guy with his head hanging, you know you’ve been through that, so you can tell him how to get over that. But also, bringing energy to every game. Every game is important. You don’t want to lose games in November and look back in March and think ‘What if?’”

The Bobcats only lost one game in November, setting the tone to close out the first half of the season strong against LIU this Saturday.

“We’ve still got LIU, that’s a big game for us,” Lipkin said. “And going into break, obviously go home, see the family, reset mentally then we’ll be on the ice ready to go for the next stretch. We really like where we’re at right now.”

This team is not perfect. Pecknold admits that its buy-in is “not quite there yet.” But the systems at the core of Quinnipiac hockey have seen great improvement from a roster drastically different from this time last year — and things will continue to get better.

“It’s just a process,” Pecknold said. “It’s not just our new guys, it’s our returners. Sometimes, when you win you think it’s going to be easy the next year. When you get offered an NHL contract you think it’s going to be easy the next year. But it’s not, it’s harder. But we’re getting there though, I’m happy with our progress.”

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Cameron Levasseur, Sports Editor
Tripp Menhall, Associate Photography Editor

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