No. 2 Cornell sweeps Quinnipiac in ECAC Quarterfinals


Kyle Levasseur


By: Kyle Levasseur

Written by: MJ Baird

ITHACA, NEW YORK – The 2017-18 campaign was one of many “firsts” for Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey. But they weren’t the “firsts” you would think of when talking about one of the perennial powerhouses in college hockey in the past five years.

This season marked Quinnipiac’s first sub .500 record in 22 seasons, the first time missing the conference’s championship weekend since 2012 and the first loss to in-state rival Yale since the coveted 2013 national championship game, to name a few.

But Saturday night closed the door on what was a “disappointing” 2017-18 season, according to Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold.

And the same sentiment is likely echoed from Bobcat fans in Hamden, who are accustomed to winning.

The stretch that began in October and came to a close this weekend was far from the norm in the pedigree that Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey has created for itself. A 16-18-4 (9-12-2 ECAC) mark just two seasons removed from a Frozen Four appearance almost certainly didn’t seem in the cards.

Yet throughout the ups and downs, things changed and players were in and out of the lineup, but there was one reoccurring theme that Pecknold brought up: the seemingly lost culture the team had.

“We have had a battle all year with our culture and our character,” Pecknold said. “It’s been a strength of ours. We lost it a little bit the first half of the year, but we really got it back the second half.”

Friday night’s lackluster effort in game one of the quarterfinal round seemed a microcosm of the rocky season the Bobcats suffered through. Cornell’s nine-goal outburst, including eight unanswered, was certainly a lowlight in the Bobcats’ past seven months.

“(Game one) was kind of a fluke to be honest, but we weren’t ready to play,” senior forward Kevin McKernan said. “Last night was crazy.”

“For whatever reason it just wasn’t there last night. Guys weren’t ready to play, they were struggling,” Pecknold said. “Cornell was good. But we were really bad. Probably our worst game of the year.”

But despite churning out a much better overall effort in game two, Quinnipiac wasn’t able to reverse its woes against a team that clearly showed its superiority in every facet of the game this series.

The highlight of game two was the Big Red killing off two separate 5-minute major penalties in the final 20 minutes to fend off the Bobcats, thanks to blocked shots and determination on the Cornell bench.

“Priskie…he can bomb it,” Cornell head coach Mike Schafer said. “(Our captains) got down and they ate it. That is the kind of sacrifice you need to move on.”

The Bobcats 18th loss of the season isn’t indicative of the way they played all year, but the better team, both on paper and on the ice, advanced to the next round.

Though most of the Quinnipiac teams of past seasons never wavered in their identity, there was just something slightly off this season that no one seemed to be able to put a finger on throughout the year.

At one point Pecknold used the term “fragile” to describe his team’s mental toughness, another time it was “an unacceptable buy-in level.” Whatever it was, the Bobcats’ season just didn’t seem meant to be from the moment conference play began.

Coming off a 3-1-1 non-conference slate to begin the year, Quinnipiac appeared as if it was going to pick up right were it left off. But an 0-4 start to the ECAC Hockey schedule, including a loss against a typically lower-level conference team in Rensselaer, had many fans scratching their heads.

Then before you knew it Quinnipiac rattled off three straight conference wins and was looking on track to get back to .500 at 3-4 by December 1st.

Then the Bobcats saw another lull. A 1-4-2 record over the course of the next seven games, including a home loss to Princeton allowing five goals, put Quinnipiac back to the proverbial drawing board in trying to reestablish its identity.

And it did.

Quinnipiac welcomed Clarkson to Hamden the first weekend of February, the No. 3 team in the nation at the time. A 4-1 victory in front of their home crowd gave the Bobcats a much-needed spark, feeling good about handing the Golden Knights only their second conference loss of the season at the time.

Quinnipiac finished the month 5-3-0, one of the losses being the aforementioned Yale game, but played with much better resiliency and buy-in through the final month of the regular season.

The Bobcats head coach mentioned repeatedly that he felt his team was really good in the month of February, which in turn carried over to the team’s postseason play.

In the playoffs, Quinnipiac drew arguably its ideal matchup: a rematch with Yale. Despite having to “travel” on the road, a mere 15 minutes down Whitney Avenue from Hamden to New Haven, the Bobcats looked better than ever.

Scoring nine goals in two games, Quinnipiac ran Yale out of its own building and set it sights on ECAC hockey’s No. 1 seed Cornell.

“All week in practice we were all juiced up, thinking we could possibly upset them this weekend,” McKernan said.

But a sold out Lynah Rink was where the Bobcats saw their season end at the hands of the Big Red.

Cornell’s two-game sweep of Quinnipiac propelled it, one of the nation’s top programs this season, into the conference semifinals and sent the blue and gold packing to Hamden.

And as another season ends, Quinnipiac must say one final farewell to its senior class, who has now seen the highs, the lows and everything in between in a Quinnipiac uniform.

“A great senior class,” Pecknold said. “All those guys were great players and won a lot of hockey games for us. Good students too and they are going to do well in life.”

McKernan, Kevin Duane, Tanner MacMaster, Bo Pieper and Landon Smith were a part of a team that set program records. Two years ago, they lost only seven games en route to Quinnipiac’s first ever Whitelaw Cup and eventually the 2016 National Championship game, where they came up one win short.

These five are also now a part of the team that fell victim to ending a streak of over two decades of winning seasons, finishing this year two games below the .500 mark.

“I think the guys in the locker room right now will see this and realize that this shouldn’t ever happen to this program and hopefully they will be hungry for next year,” McKernan said.

As the lights go out on the 2017-18 season, Quinnipiac has much to look forward to for next October.

All three goaltenders are underclassmen, all six starting defenseman are slated to return for their junior and senior seasons, only two of the top ten point getters from this season are graduating and perhaps most important of all, the Bobcats return three of their four leaders who wear letters on their shirts (Priskie, Furgele, Davidson).

It’s likely that this year isn’t first on the list of seasons to remember for Bobcat fans. But in a season that is scattered with “firsts,” it’s fitting to add another.

Rand Pecknold postgame

Kevin McKernan postgame

Kevin Duane postgame

*This post was updated with press conferences at 9:40am in 3/11/18