Quinnipiac Men’s Ice Hockey Excited for Conference Play, Even Without Bongiovanni


Tom Krosnowski

Although the Quinnipiac Bobcats men’s ice hockey team’s season is only two weeks old, it’s already more than a quarter over.

After playing eight games in 14 days, the Bobcats have completed their early-season non-conference slate with a 6-2 record and a 12th-place standing in the latest USCHO national poll.

It’s been a hectic start to the year, one that head coach Rand Pecknold compared to a professional NHL schedule, but it’s what the team has signed on for.

“I made a decision a while ago – we want to play games,” Pecknold said. “My kids want to play games, so let’s get in as many as we can. We have to adapt as coaches, the players have to adapt, and that’s what we have to do in this COVID environment.”

The non-conference schedule for Quinnipiac consisted of six home games and only two single-day road trips. Now, with ECAC Hockey conference play right around the corner, it’s another new challenge for the team.

None of the eight Ivy League schools that are a part of ECAC Hockey are playing this year, leaving Quinnipiac, Clarkson, Colgate and St. Lawrence as the only remaining members this season.

“In the end, we’ve got a four-team league,” Pecknold said. “It’s a bit unusual, but we’re excited to kick it off. We’ve got some tough opponents, and just looking forward to it.”

Quinnipiac is now the most remote school in the conference – Colgate is a four-hour ride away, while Clarkson and St. Lawrence are easily six-hour trips. With COVID-19 complicating travel, the schedule for these games looks a little different this year. Instead of playing two different opponents every Friday and Saturday, alternating between home and road weekends, the Bobcats have a more inconsistent schedule and will face opponents in two-or three-game series.

However, Pecknold actually sees this new-look schedule as a positive for game prep.

“When you play the same team on a weekend, as opposed to having a different team Friday and Saturday night, it makes it a lot easier on a coaching staff,” Pecknold said. “All the coaching staffs, on both sides. Only having to cut video, get prepared, and get a game plan in place for one opponent as opposed to two – it’s a game-changer.”

Although Quinnipiac has the most game experience so far of any of the teams in the conference, the teams will be plenty familiar with each other by season’s end. Each team will face each other six times each, three times as often as the usual two games.

“The thing on playing everybody six times, I would’ve been fine playing everybody eight times,” Pecknold said. “It doesn’t faze us. We just want to play games – we had a nine-and-a-half-month break, (we were) so worried we weren’t even going to play a season. Obviously, some of my colleagues, my good friends, don’t have a season, so we’re fortunate that we have it.”

The Bobcats’ first ECAC Hockey game of the season is Thursday at St. Lawrence, but it will likely come without one of the team’s best snipers and valuable leaders, Wyatt Bongiovanni. The junior alternate captain was kneed in the third period of Friday’s contest vs. AIC and had to be helped off the ice.

Pecknold said that Bongiovanni would be “out for a bit,” and discussed the new-look first line, which features sophomore Ethan Leyh and first-year Ty Smilanic beside captain Odeen Tufto.

“Ethan, he’s a goal-scorer,” Pecknold said. “I would probably put him as our best pure goal-scorer … I think it’ll take a little time for him and Odeen to mesh, and we’ll see if we leave the lines like that or not.

“But, Wyatt’s going to be out for a bit, and I think Odeen needs a goal-scorer, and that’s what Ethan provides.”

Leyh has one goal and two assists in the Bobcats’ first eight games, while Smilanic has lit up the scoresheet in his first batch of NCAA games. The highly-touted Florida Panthers prospect has used his speed and finesse to take over games, but has also made a few rookie mistakes. Without Bongiovanni, it will be key for Smilanic to keep up the production.

“He’s been good,” Pecknold said. “It’s a process for him. I think (people) don’t realize how hard it is to play college hockey at age 18. It’s tough … I like where he’s at, he’s putting up some numbers for us right now. I think the big thing for him is he’s got to get better habits in practice and in games, and he’s taken major strides.”

The last time the Bobcats played a game in-conference, they were wrapping up a 21-11-2 regular season and heading into the ECAC Hockey Tournament with a first-round bye.

A lot has changed since then, but the Bobcats’ quest to get back to the playoffs starts on Thursday in Canton, New York vs. St. Lawrence.