Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold (Bedford, N.H.) had two goals following last season, when his team played .500 hockey over the last two months after a 7-2-0 start. He wanted to increase the intensity of each of his team's practices, and he wanted to provide his roster with more depth.
Pecknold achieved both of those goals, and his Bobcats (22-4-4 overall, 15-1-2 ECAC) are the class of ECAC Hockey -- if not NCAA Division 1 -- heading into the closing weeks of the season. Quinnipiac clinched an ECAC Hockey regular-season title Saturday with a 2-1 victory over Clarkson. The night before, St. Lawrence snapped Quinnipiac's 21-game unbeaten streak, the longest posted by any Division 1 team this season. Quinnipiac is currently ranked No. 1 in the Pairwise rankings, ahead of Minnesota, Miami of Ohio, UNH and BC.
Clinching an ECAC regular-season title with two weekends remaining on the schedule is far from the norm. The title is typically settled on the last weekend of the season -- if not the last night. For instance, Union earned its title last season on the final Saturday, when a Cornell loss sealed the Dutchmen's title.
"I think every other year it's come to the last game," Pecknold says. "I don't think there's one reason why we've accomplished what we've accomplished. A big one is our practice habits. That was one of the goals coming into the year for our players and coaches. We really focused on being better in practice, competing harder. We practice at game pace, and when Friday night rolls around, we don't miss a beat."
Perhaps practice pace wasn't as much of a priority for Quinnipiac in past years when the depth of the roster wasn't as strong. An injury to a player during practice was the worst-case scenario for a small school that often boasted two strong forward lines and four solid defensemen. This season, Quinnipiac has gotten production out of four forward lines and seven defensemen vying for six spots.
"We're mostly a veteran team," Pecknold says. "Our sophomores -- Matthew Peca, Bryce Van and Danny Federico -- have all elevated their games from being role players to being impact players. When we can roll out four lines, it's hard for other teams to match up."
The Bobcats have been led by a strong senior class. Senior goaltender Eric Hartzell has had a breakout season, posting a record of 22-3-4 with a conference-best GAA of 1.46 and winning percentage of .828. The four senior defensemen in front of him -- Loren Barron, Zack Currie, Zach Davies, Mike Dalhuisen -- all have a plus/minus of +6 or better. Of the forwards, two of the top three scorers (Jeremy Langlois, Clay Harvey) are also seniors.
Unlike some coaches who claim a loss can help leading into the postseason, Pecknold took no positives from the team's loss to St. Lawrence Friday.
"We want to win every game," Pecknold says. "We outshot St. Lawrence 32-14, but their goalie (Matt Weninger) was great. We came out at Clarkson the next day, and we had a lot of pressure on us. We had to win that game at home, and we did."
It seems a stretch for Pecknold to call it a must-win considering his team remains atop the Pairwise rankings, and the Bobcats will play four league games with nothing at stake over the next two weekends since they have already clinched a regular-season title. Still, Pecknold says the team has its eyes on bigger prizes.
"One of our goals is to make the NCAA tournament," Pecknold says. "Certainly the higher you get in the Pairwise, the better you'll be seeded. We'd rather go to Providence (in the Regionals) than travel. We'll have a better opportunity for our fans to watch. In the end, though, we want to do what we've done all year. Stay the course, and show up at every rink looking to get better."
Game of the week
Quinnipiac at Yale
Friday, Feb. 22 (7:30 p.m., High Point Solutions Arena at the TD Bank Sports Center)
The 11th anniversary of the Heroes Hat Championship pits the Bobcats and Bulldogs against each other. Quinnipiac has won three of its previous five matchups, which included one tie. The Heroes Hat is presented to the winner of the last regular-season game between the two teams. The award was established in honor of those who risked or lost their lives following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. It remembers Joseph Mascali (FDNY/Staten Island 5), father of Quinnipiac alumni Chris and Jenn Mascali.
Player of the week
Marshall Everson, Harvard University
Everson scored five goals in three games last week. He netted a pair of goals in a 7-4 upset of Boston University in the Beanpot consolation game Feb. 12, then notched back-to-back games with two goals. He scored a pair in 4-1 win over Colgate Feb. 15, including the game-winning tally. He then struck for third straight game in 2-2 tie with Cornell Feb. 16. Everson is now tied for the team lead in goals (10) on the season.
1. Quinnipiac (22-4-4, 15-1-2): St. Lawrence snapped Quinnipiac's 21-game unbeaten streak Friday. So how did the Bobcats respond? They beat Clarkson 2-1 the next night and had what coach Rand Pecknold called their "best practice of the year" Monday.
2. RPI (14-11-5, 9-6-3): The Engineers are ECAC's hottest team with wins in six straight games and eight of their last nine. RPI has scored an average of four goals per game over its last eight contests.
3. St. Lawrence (15-11-4, 8-6-4): Junior forward Greg Carey is a legitimate Hobey Baker contender with a 1.50 points-per-game average that ranks No. 1 in the nation. He also leads the country in total points (23-22-45), and is the only player in the country with more than 20 goals on the season.
4. Union (15-10-5, 8-6-4): After starting the season 8-2-1, the Dutchmen were 2-6-3 over their next 11. They have since gone 5-2-1, including last weekend's home sweep of Yale and Brown, which lifted the team into a tie for third place in the ECAC standings.
5. Yale (13-9-3, 9-8-1): The Bulldogs opened 2013 with a six-game unbeaten streak, but have won just once in their last six games. The problem: goaltender Jeff Malcolm's injury. He appeared in 19 games for the Bulldogs, but has been sidelined with an injury since Feb. 1. Nick Maricic is 2-3-1 for the year with a 3.14 GAA and a .893 save percentage.
6. Dartmouth (12-9-4, 8-7-3): The Big Green hope they got their season back on track Saturday when they overcame a 4-3 deficit in the final 10 minutes against Colgate. They enetered the game 3-7-1 in their last 11 games, and they had not won since Jan. 26.
7. Princeton (9-12-4, 7-8-3): Senior Mike Condon and junior Sean Bonar have shared time in net, although Condon seems to have secured the job moving forward. Condon has a 7-7-3 record with a .926 save percentage and a 2.42 goals against average. Bonar is 2-5-1 with a .901 save percentage and a 3.24 GAA.
8. Clarkson (8-15-7, 7-8-3): With eight points still remaining to be earned in the regular season, Clarkson can finish anywhere from second to 12th in the standings. The Knights are four points shy of second place and seven points from falling to 12th.
9. Brown (9-11-5, 5-8-5): Special teams are a weak point for the Bears, as they convert 13.7 percent on the power play and 77.4 percent on the penalty kill.
10. Colgate (13-13-4, 5-10-3): The Raiders are starting to feel the losses of Austin Smith and Chris Wagner. Now in the thick of the ECAC schedule, the Raiders are riding a four-game losing streak and a six-game winless streak.
11. Cornell (9-13-3, 5-10-3): Signs of life for the Big Red: They ended an uncharacteristic seven-game losing streak Friday with a 4-2 victory at Dartmouth. The next night at Harvard, defenseman Nick D'Agostino scored late in the second period to tie the game at 2, which is how the game ended.
12. Harvard (7-15-3, 4-12-2): Senior captain Danny Biega was named a finalist for the 2013 Senior CLASS Award. He is one of 10 finalists and the award winner will be selected during the NCAA Frozen Four April 11-13 in Pittsburgh, Pa. He is the only Senior CLASS Award finalist from ECAC Hockey.