Quinnipiac heads into the ECAC semifinals more equipped than ever to lift the Whitelaw Cup


Andrew Badillo

Photo Courtesy: Quinnipiac Athletics

Since rising to the No. 1 ranking in the country for the first time in program history four years ago, the Quinnipiac Bobcats have been under the national spotlight ever since. A spotlight that has burned however, when the stakes are high and championships are within the swipe of a paw.

It’s no secret that Quinnipiac has failed to bring home a tournament championship since its rise to the top of college hockey four years ago. Everyone remembers the shocking loss to Yale in the National Championship Game in 2013, a team the Bobcats toyed with three times that very year.

This year marks the fourth straight time the Bobcats have made it to the ECAC semifinals. They have fallen short each time, failing to advance to the championship game.

Now, the Bobcats head to Lake Placid to hoping to wrap their paws around the Whitelaw Cup and silence their critics.

“I know everything is great with the Cleary Cup and its awesome to win the league and get the No. 1 seed but that’s something that aches in belly in some of our guys and I think it’s going to be some of that burn and desire, to be quite honest we’ve had some criticism in the media this year about ‘oh it’s great they win regular season, but when are they going to win in the playoffs’ and I don’t think the players like that too much,” Assistant head coach Bill Riga said after Sundays game three win over Cornell in the ECAC Quarterfinals.

If Quinnipiac is primed to win its first ECAC Tournament Championship this would be the year. A battle-tested senior class that has experienced ups and downs throughout their college careers leads the Bobcats into Herb Brooks Arena Friday evening against Dartmouth.

Captain Soren Jonzzon has seen his role increase in each of his four seasons in blue and gold. A rare combination of skill, agility, and tenacity, Travis St. Denis has rounded out his game in his swan song season and has become a premier offensive threat in the ECAC and in the country. Last but not least, goaltender Michael Garteig, who has proved his critics wrong by having an outstanding season, has shown that he is the best goalie in program history.

All of these players have been through the gauntlet of defeats and know what it’s like to lose at the pinnacle of the sport, but they also know how to win and put themselves in position to return to the grand stage.

The group has accumulated 104-33-22 record and has won three Cleary Cups (ECAC regular season champions). Winning in sports does not come easy. Often times teams must learn how to lose before they can win. The seniors on this team have gradually learned how to win and have sustained consistent success in the regular season.

“For us, the senior class has been awesome. They’re either one or two in career wins in college hockey. They’re a group of winners. Even more than hockey – we’ve enjoyed coaching them. They’re a great group of young men – lots of character, great grades and they’re great students. They’re fired up for this weekend and they’re going to play well come the playoffs,” head coach Rand Pecknold said.

The 2015-16 season has been a magical one for Quinnipiac. It has risen to the No. 1 ranking in the country for the first time since 2012-2013 and has pulled off some extraordinary comebacks.

Quinnipiac was down three goals to Cornell on two separate occasions in their first meeting back in November, the Bobcats won in overtime. Games against Northeastern (Jan. 2), Maine (Jan. 19), and RPI (Jan. 21 and Feb. 19) saw Quinnipiac down one goal with less than three minutes remaining. The Bobcats found a way to at least tie all of those contests (they won the Feb. 19 game against RPI).

But, perhaps the most outstanding and most bizarre comeback of them all came against Dartmouth, in which Quinnipiac scored six goals in the third period to win 7-5. The Bobcats were down three goals twice in the final period, and still found a way to win. The two meet up one more time in the semifinals on Friday.

All of these comebacks, minus one, came on the road in front of hostile crowds. This year’s team knows how to win, no matter the circumstances.

“I think character-wise this team is phenomenal,” Pecknold said. “We’ve had four extra-attacker goals, to come from behind. In a couple of those games, we were down by two, scored and then pulled the goalie. We’ve won a lot of games in the third period, when we’ve taken over the game. Part of that has been our resiliency and our character, and we’re also in great shape.”

Winning is a skill that has to be learned. The senior class has done so, the hard way. Now it’s time for them to lead their team and achieve something that has been eluding them since April 13, 2013. It all starts Friday at 4 p.m. at the Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, New York.