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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

‘We’re excited to defend our title’: Previewing Quinnipiac’s NCAA Tournament opener against Wisconsin

Tripp Menhall
Quinnipiac huddles around the net prior to puck drop against Brown on Feb. 23.

PROVIDENCE, RI — Three hundred and fifty four days ago, Minnesota men’s hockey head coach Bob Motzko walked into a press conference and dubbed Quinnipiac “Big Ten killers.” Twenty-four hours later he watched as his Gophers were slain.

Ohio State, Michigan, Minnesota, that was the lineage of the Bobcats’ final three victories en route to a national championship.

Now, as they look to become the fourth back-to-back champion this century, Wisconsin is knocking on the door.

The Bobcats and Badgers will square off at Amica Mutual Pavilion at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, marking the teams’ first meeting since 2003.

“We’re excited to defend our title,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. “It’s a great regional, we’ve got four really good teams and we’re looking forward to it. We’re ready to go.”

Though the programs don’t have recent history, Wisconsin head coach Mike Hastings is fresh in Quinnipiac’s memory.

Hastings was at the helm of the Minnesota State team that knocked the Bobcats out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2021. He took over at Wisconsin this offseason after 11 years and two Frozen Four appearances with the Mavericks.

“He’s one of the best coaches in our game,” Pecknold said. “His teams are disciplined. They manage the puck well. They’re locked into every facet of the game.”

In just one season, Hastings has transformed a Badgers program that spent most of the last decade as a perennial loser.

Wisconsin won nine of its first 10 games, rising as high as No. 1 in the USCHO poll by mid November. The Badgers went on another tear through the start of the new year, winning 10 straight through the holiday break to solidify their place as a national contender.

The back half of the season was less kind to Wisconsin, which sits at just 7-7-2 since a tie with Lindenwood on Jan. 13. That stretch saw the Badgers swept on the road at Ohio State and beaten in a best-of-three Big Ten quarterfinal series against the last place Buckeyes on home ice in early March.

Both are defining lowlights in an otherwise triumphant return for a college hockey blue blood, but the latter exit put Wisconsin on the couch for nearly 20 days before entering the NCAA Tournament.

An early knockout in the conference tournament is not a historical marker for a dud on the national stage. In certain circumstances, it might actually play to a team’s advantage. An injured Penn State team had the same layover ahead of last year’s NCAA Tournament and fell one goal short of a Frozen Four appearance.

“Having that two weeks off is definitely nice for guys that are a little banged up to hit that reset button as a team,” Badgers senior forward Mathieu De St. Phalle said. “Just getting a little break and then coming back going to work with a fresh mind … I think we did a good job of using it to our advantage.”

Offensively, Wisconsin is led by sophomore Cruz Lucius, a fourth-round pick in the Pittsburgh Penguins system. Lucius is an elite playmaking winger whose shot has improved in college. His team-leading 34 points exactly match the output from his freshman season.

Helping carry the load are a trio of transfers — sophomores Christian Fitzgerald and Simon Tassy and senior David Silye — that Hastings brought over from Minnesota State. Silye is the only other Badger above the 30-point mark this season, while Tassy and Fitzgerald boast 28 and 24-point totals respectively.

Sophomore Ben Dexheimer is the team’s ace defensively. He’s solid through all three zones, makes few mistakes with the puck and quarterbacks the top power play unit. Dexmeimer’s 28 points is No. 23 in the NCAA in defensive scoring this season.

Statistically, the Badgers’ defense is among the nation’s best, allowing just two goals per game, a figure that only trails Cornell and Quinnipiac (each at 1.9).

Much of that success can be attributed to senior goaltender Kyle McClellan, who propelled himself into the spotlight with a standout senior season.

In his first year as Wisconsin’s starter, McClellan is a Hobey Baker Top Ten Finalist, Richter Award finalist and Big Ten Goaltender of the Year. He leads the country in shutouts (7) and SV% (.931) and is only behind Cornell’s Ian Shane in GAA (1.92).

“They’ve got one of the best goalies in the country, if not the best,” Pecknold said. “We’re going to have to find a way to score on him.”

The solution to that problem starts not with McClellan, but with the defense in front of him. Wisconsin’s blueliners are — for the most part — not a physical bunch. They struggle at times with net-front box outs and likewise clearing rebounds.

So as cliche as it sounds, in order to score goals, Quinnipiac has to get pucks on net and crash the goalmouth for opportunities the Badgers’ defense fails to clear. That should be a simple enough task for a team averaging 34.3 shots per game, a top 10 mark in the nation.

It wasn’t against St. Lawrence a week ago. The Bobcats only managed 22 shots in their ECAC Semifinal loss.

“We certainly need to learn from our mistakes with St. Lawrence,” Pecknold said. “I don’t think we prepared well for the game and we had trouble resetting within the game.”

But it’s a new week — and a clean slate.

“It’s time to move on,” Pecknold said. “It’s one and done right now, our season’s on the line, so there’s a lot at stake.”

It’s a familiar experience. The Bobcats unceremoniously bowed out of last year’s ECAC Tournament in the semifinals but used that fuel to power a national championship run.

So Quinnipiac has been here before, both mentally and physically. The Bobcats advanced to their first Frozen Four from the then Dunkin Donuts Center in 2013, a run began with a three-goal third period comeback against Canisius.

That fire was missing against St. Lawrence. It can’t be against Wisconsin.

“Tomorrow we need to have some desperation,” Pecknold said.

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About the Contributors
Cameron Levasseur
Cameron Levasseur, Sports Editor
Tripp Menhall
Tripp Menhall, Creative Director

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