Nick Jermain: a new level


Rob Rasmussen

Jonathan Banks, Men's Hockey Beat Reporter

By: Jonathan Banks

After the Quinnipiac men’s hockey team took down Arizona State in the NCAA Tournament, head coach Rand Pecknold fielded a question about how crucial captain Chase Priskie was to the Bobcats’ success.

“You can’t put a price on what he does for our locker room,” Pecknold said. “He’s pretty special. In 25 years at Quinnipiac, I’ve been really lucky to have some good captains. He’s right up there as one of the best I’ve ever had.”

When you take in Priskie’s body of work, understand the way he interacts with the media and garners the respect of teammates, it’s clear Pecknold’s statement is true.

Some might say Priskie is on another level.

Fresh off the school’s deepest run in the NCAA Tournament since reaching the National Championship game in the 2015-16 season, which culminated in a loss to the reigning and eventual champion Minnesota-Duluth, there were tons of questions surrounding the program’s transition into the new campaign.

How many underclassmen would leave for the professional ranks? Can the freshmen class step up or even replicate their incredible offensive output as sophomores?

However, the most pressing thought- who would take the reigns from Priskie and be the team’s new captain?

From the outside looking in, there were four candidates who were equally deserving. Odeen Tufto and Alex Whelan are two of the team’s most talented offensive players. Tufto’s vision and feel for the game mimics that of a magician. His eye for a pass saw him end the season with 27 assists and 42 points, good for 3rd and 4th in ECAC Hockey.

On the other side, Whelan is prolific in the offensive zone. The New Jersey-native tallied 13 goals, which placed him 4th on the team. His work ethic and compete level is also unmatched in all facets of the ice for the Bobcats. Both players recently spent time in NHL Development Camps as undrafted free agent invites with the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers, respectively.

Karlis Cukste is a defensive force for Quinnipiac. A traditional defensive-defensemen, the Latvia native paced the team with 86 blocked shots. If you add up Brogan Rafferty’s total (38) and Chase Priskie’s total (35), the two players under Cukste in the blocked shots category, they would still fall 13 blocks short of the former Chicago Steel player (USHL). The San Jose Sharks prospect opted to stay in Hamden rather than start his professional career. This in turn improved his resume to become the captain.

However, it was the fourth name on the proverbial list that will become the 46th captain in the team’s illustrious history.

Through a combination of a player’s vote and input from coaches and staff, forward Nick Jermain was the man elected to wear the “C” for the upcoming season, with Tufto, Whelan and Cukste selected as assistant captains.

Jermain, a senior from Norwalk, Connecticut (approximately 40 minutes from Hamden), might not light up the stat sheet as much as the other three candidates (10 points last season), but on-ice production should never be a priority when deciding a captain, or a leader in any sport for that matter.

Even for people who say it should factor in, next year should not be an issue. Barring injury, Jermain has the ability to feature near the top of the scoring charts for last year’s ECAC Hockey regular season champions.

Regardless, the newly-minted captain knows why he was chosen for the role.

“They [players and coaches] just want wins and they want a guy that is going to be able to bring the team wins in as many games as possible,” Jermain said in a phone interview. “And so obviously they thought I could do that.”

The transition period

Throughout his time as a Bobcats player, Jermain has consistently been a favorite among teammates. The support for the team’s new captain was made public on social media, including this tweet from former Quinnipiac assistant captain Kevin McKernan:

Jermain credits McKernan and other leaders in the past, such as Priskie and current Boston Bruins blueliner Connor Clifton, as reasons he became influential in the locker room before even being considered as a team leader.

“I decided to follow that and bring my best every day. And you know, it takes much more than the seniors to be leaders,” Jermain said. “You have to start leading pretty much right when you get here. I think I’ve been able to do that in my time here.”

The former Merritt Centennials player, who earned an award for leadership while with the BCHL outfit, has set a few objectives for the Bobcats this upcoming year. In general, he wants to make sure the goals of the team intertwine with the individual goals for every player.

“Everyone wants to move on the next level, and obviously it’s a team goal to win our program’s first national championship,” Jermain said. “So making those two align is really important. And I think we have the right group of guys to do it. “

Jermain then pointed out how four of five seniors that graduated this past year have moved on to the professional ranks in some capacity. Major accolades so far include Brogan Rafferty skating in NHL contests with the Vancouver Canucks and Scott Davidson winning the Calder Cup as a member of the Charlotte Checkers (AHL- Carolina Hurricanes organization).

“We’re lucky enough to be at a program and everyone is at a level where playing professional hockey is not unrealistic at all,” Jermain added.

Besides being the guy to jumpstart the professional development side of things for this roster, Jermain also talked about meshing the incoming class with the team’s culture and values.

“It’s really important to be able to cultivate the incoming class. I think last year the older guys did a really good job,” Jermain said. “We were setting a good example of what it means to be a Quinnipiac hockey player and we’re going to have to do an even better job with that this year.”

He personally reflected on the experience of coming into the fray as a wide-eyed freshman overwhelmed by his surroundings. When talking about his class, he noted it took him, Alex Whelan (a new assistant captain) and Andrew Shortridge (nominated for the Mike Richter award as the best goaltender in the country) extra time to adapt to the rigors of division 1 hockey.

For Jermain, patience will be a virtue.

“You don’t write someone off in the first couple of months,” Jermain said. “I’ve learned that from other examples that everyone’s time frame is different and you have to be patient and allow these guys to develop into what they can really be.”

Take the Shortridge example as living proof of this. Andrew Shortridge ended up leading the entire country with a .940 save percentage. You could argue his 32-save shutout against No. 1 UMass was the best performance by a goalie all year in NCAA Hockey. It took him time to blossom and find his true potential, something Jermain wants to make sure all of the younger players do.

And that starts with the work put in off the ice.

“What we do in the weight room in the summers are so important with Coach B [Brijesh Patel]. You see how the older guys work so hard… we’re in there lifting two and a half hours some days and it’s not easy at all,” Jermain said. “And that’s on purpose. It’s supposed to be hard and mentally and physically challenging.”

Once the newcomers see what it takes in the gym, Jermain does not think it will be hard to get them to buy in.

“There’s such a good culture in our team that I don’t think it’ll be that challenging to instill the same values that he [Priskie] did.”

Roaring into next season

Back on the ice, the senior has lofty ambitions for a team that finished with a record of 26-10-2.

“We look at our season where we can win five trophies… obviously some have a bit more weight but we want to win as many trophies as we can. That’s the goal for us.”

For the Bobcats, the “Heroes Hat”, ECAC Hockey regular season championship, ECAC Hockey tournament championship and national championship are the four pieces of hardware always up for grabs.

Now, there’s a new trophy in town to win for Quinnipiac.

Jermain was amped about potentially getting his hands on the 1st annual Connecticut Ice trophy. The 4-team tournament involving Quinnipiac, Yale, UConn and Sacred Heart is slated to take place at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport on January 25 and 26 of next year.

“Hopefully it could be something, maybe in 10 years or so it develops into something big and where it gets national interest.”

In terms of non-tournament play, Jermain immediately pinpointed Arizona State and UMass as games that pop out to him personally. He thinks an NCAA Tournament rematch with the Sun Devils will be exciting and sees it, “as a good measuring stick for us”, to play a University of Massachusetts-Amherst squad that made it all the way to the national championship game this past season.

Having said that, the captain of the “Q” was non-committal in any other games he wanted to mark, besides one ECAC Hockey foe he named later.

“We can’t really look too much into that. Unfortunately, our league is so strong and I think we had four teams make the tournament last year,” Jermain said. “Each league game obviously is so important. We learned that winning the regular season championship where every game and every point matters.”

Reminiscing about last year

No one will ever deny the importance of a regular season championship, but the playoffs are where players and coaches build their legacies. The Bobcats earned a No. 2 seed after an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament. However, a battle in the Midwest Regional Final with Minnesota-Duluth proved too stiff a test for a Bobcats team littered with young talent.

Jermain was out for this game, but admitted the lights might have shined too bright for a select few of his teammates.

“I do think at times the moment was a little big for certain guys,” Jermain said.

While Quinnipiac’s new skipper would not directly reveal the reason behind his thinking, he did offer a possible explanation.

“It’s hard to say where that came from… I saw it our third period against Duluth,” Jermain said. “We were so good, we were buzzing, and I just think a little at times in the first period we were a little passive… maybe the thought of getting into the Frozen Four and everything that comes with that was on the mind.”

It’s a valid point, given the fact this is the biggest stage most guys had ever played on for Quinnipiac, excluding the few who represented the “Q” at the 2015-16 National Championship.

Rewinding back a few weeks before the Midwest Regional, the Bobcats missed out on a trip to the ECAC Hockey Semifinals in Lake Placid, NY for the second-year running. While two years ago saw No. 9 Quinnipiac fall to No. 1 seed Cornell, this past year the Bobcats had destiny in their own hands.

The ECAC Hockey quarterfinals, yet again, did not go according to plan. Rand Pecknold’s team was swept at home in a best-of-three series to No. 8 Brown. Jermain connects the loss to Brown as something totally different from their NCAA Tournament exit.

“I think it actually was quite the opposite [of the moment being too big]… I think we almost, somewhat looked past them,” Jermain said. “We just came off a huge high winning the regular season championship at Yale and we had a weekend off and we had two leads that we just blew.”

Even with the interview taking place months after the season, it’s clear the result still doesn’t sit well with Jermain.

“We weren’t prepared to end a team’s season. I think it may have came down to, ‘we knew we were safe in the tournament’, but obviously that was pretty bad for us. We were really upset with that. Going back to the schedule just because of that, you know, I personally circled Brown on the schedule just to kind of make amends for what happened. Getting swept on home ice is obviously a really disappointing thing for our team and our program,” Jermain said.

It was a different story freshman year for Jermain against the Bears when the Connecticut native scored THAT goal in Hamden on senior night three seasons ago (something he told me was maybe his best goal as a Quinnipiac hockey player).

Although the goal was a moment of individual brilliance, Jermain would not cement it as his best moment as a Bobcat. He expects that to come this season, with the help of his teammates who spend their summers with him.

For most college students, time is spent together on the beach or visiting each other in their hometowns.

In the case of Nick Jermain, it’s grinding in the bottom gym of the People’s United Center with his teammates.

“We’re working really hard right now and I think we’ve got a big year ahead of us,” Jermain said. “It’s something that we are not going to take for granted. We were close last year and I think we’re ready for the next step.”

It will take a lot for this team to climb over that next step. The roster this year does have tons of talent, but it’s not like no one left the program. Quinnipiac will be without their star goaltender, two of the best defensemen in the nation from last season (including a third d-man who played in the NHL) and more.

But don’t tell any of that to Nick Jermain.

This is his team. And if his team is any reflection of Jermain as a player, they will work tirelessly, pay attention to every detail and have a knack for being at the right place at the right time.

Quinnipiac has never won a national championship, but the ingredients are there.

It’s up to Nick Jermain to take them to a new level.