2020-21 Quinnipiac Men’s Ice Hockey Season Preview: Defense


Photo: Liz Flynn

Steven Pappas

Season Preview – Forwards

Youth, talent and inexperience have been the words flying around the Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey team this season and that is evident when looking at the team’s defensive core. The unit as a whole averages just 5-foot-11, 181 pounds and 20.6 years of age, meaning not only is the group young but undersized as well.

Out of the nine defensemen listed on the team’s roster, five of them are underclassmen, with the other four — Zach Metsa, Peter DiLiberatore, Marcus Chorney, and TJ Friedman (if you would like to call Friedman a defenseman) — being juniors.

The team lost a key piece to graduation last year in Karlis Cukste, who played huge minutes for the Bobcats on the blue line over the last two seasons.

The Returners

Zach Metsa

Probably the player who took one of the biggest steps forward between his first and second year in Hamden, Metsa will be playing some key minutes this year as he saw more and more as the season went on last year.

The junior from Delafield, Wisconsin, played almost 23 minutes per game last season, up 255% from the year before, and was playing huge minutes on both the penalty kill (2:40 per game) and power play (1:42 per game).

Metsa’s five goals last season had him second among defensemen on the team behind DiLiberatore, and 17 points had him third among defensemen behind DiLiberatore and the aforementioned Cukste.

It wasn’t just offensively where Metsa took steps forward in becoming a number one defenseman, he became increasingly physical as the season went on, engaging in about 15 puck battles a game up 375% from the year prior.

Peter DiLiberatore

The Vegas Golden Knights draft pick had an up-and-down sophomore campaign as he led the team’s defensemen in goals (6) and points (21). It is undeniable the offensive skill that DiLiberatore has, his speed and awareness enabling him to take over a game at points and show why the Golden Knights used their 6th round draft pick on him.

The issues arise when DiLiberatore is overly aggressive on the offensive end leading to odd-man rushes in the opposite direction with a forward back defending. He committed 66 turnovers in the offensive zone last season, with some leading to odd-man rushes and goals in the opposite direction.

The 6-foot defenseman has been very reliable offensively in his first two years in the navy and gold. If he can clean up some of the mistakes this year and maybe understand that being aggressive all the time may not be the right play, we have the potential of seeing a breakout season from the Nova Scotian.

Marcus Chorney

Another player who showed flashes of improvement in their sophomore season was Chorney. As a first-year, Chorney was averaging just over a minute of ice time per game until he was thrust into the playoff series against Brown after then-captain Chase Priskie was suspended.

But last season for Chorney was a quietly good one. From an outsider’s perspective, he didn’t see much of the scoresheet, but his impact on the ice was there. Towards the end of last season, Bobcats head coach Rand Pecknold even told the media that he had been one of the best defensemen on the team for a majority of last year. With the chance to be given top-four minutes this season it will be interesting to see what role Chorney plays on the blue line.

He has not been the biggest offensive threat in his career, with just 11 goals in his last 249 games dating all the way back to 18U AA with Shattuck St. Mary’s, which leads me to believe Chorney’s size will be utilized as he is one of the bigger guys in the lineup.

TJ Friedmann

It feels wrong putting Friedmann in the defenseman category because he has truly developed his game to be able to play both positions effectively. I would like to see the coaching staff have some sort of plan for Friedmann this year as it seemed last season, Friedmann’s position was different every time he touched the ice.

That was never more true than in the first game of the Connecticut Ice Tournament against UConn where Pecknold openly said the team was cycling Friedmann from forward to defense. At 6-foot-2, 180 pounds the length and size is there to play on a blue line that is starving for some grit and physicality.

CJ McGee

The addition of McGee last season was a pleasant surprise but, much like Chorney, didn’t necessarily result in numbers on the scoresheet. Rather, it showed in how well he played the defensive position last season.

Playing in 25 games as a first-year has given McGee some important experience coming into his sophomore season. After averaging about 12 minutes a night last season, McGee might not be ready to step into a top 4 role just yet but he will be a valuable asset to this team on the third pairing with either Chorney or one of the first-years.

Jayden Lee

This has to be one of the more interesting storylines coming into the 2020-21 season. What will year two look like for Lee?

It definitely looked at times last season that the younger and smaller Lee was punching a bit out of his weight class and seemed a little overwhelmed with the game. An injury late in the season in the game at Yale ended his first year prematurely but there were definitely some positives to take away from his 18-year-old season.

For starters, he has a wicked shot for someone who’s listed as 5-foot-9, 160 pounds and if he has added muscle and strength in this elongated offseason it will seriously help his production in 2021.

Lee was very responsible with the puck last season which was good to see from a young player, with just 21 turnovers all last year and more importantly, only six in third periods.

The consistency and size are still where I worry for Lee. While it seems he has gotten bigger from last season, according to the team website, he is still relatively small compared to the rest of the ECAC Hockey conference and it could be one big hit again that could derail what can be a really promising season.

Logan Britt

It was a tough year one for Britt in a Bobcats uniform but there may be windows for him to contribute this season. As one of the bigger guys on the blue line at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds Britt is going to have to take advantage of all the time he can get on the ice.

This does not necessarily mean creating offense, but instead being hard on the puck and banging bodies around being a real grinder along the walls, and being tough to play against. For a team that doesn’t have that much size, guys like Britt and forward Joe O’Connor are going to need to use their size to their advantage to be successful in 2021.

The Newbies

Iivari Räsänen

Coming in at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, Räsänen, much like Britt, will need to use his size to be successful.

In his career in Finland, Räsänen was very successful on the offensive side of the puck notching 54 points in 108 games for Tappara U20 competing against the likes of goaltender Joel Blomqvist, a second-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2020.

Räsänen looks to be a replacement for the loss of Cukste in his size as well as offensive production. There is a strong possibility you will see Räsänen suit up for every game the Bobcats play this year.

Nick Bochen

Keeping with the theme of offensive defensemen, Bochen put up some pretty solid offensive numbers with the Prince George Spruce Kings of the BCHL and as a right-handed shooting defenseman, he becomes increasingly valuable to the team.

Bochen joins Metsa, Lee, and Chorney as the only other right shot defenseman on the team. With the impressive numbers in the BCHL, Bochen will be a force at the left defense spot in the future, but with his lack of size and experience in ECAC Hockey, it may be some time before we see him on the ice.

With some new faces and players being catapulted into a larger role this season the Bobcats’ defense is going to be a storyline the entire season. The youth, lack of size, and inexperience could hurt the team in the long run, much to the chagrin of Pecknold. With the offense Quinnipiac has, they may need to win some high-scoring games this year to come out of the four-team ECAC Hockey conference.