We’ve reached that time of the season where Princeton has a two-week gap in its schedule due to an exam break. It’s an expected and understood part of the schedule for the Tigers, but it has a direct impact on another program that’s forced to deal with the resulting schedule difficulties – Quinnipiac, Princeton’s travel partner.
The Bobcats are dealing with a scheduling quirk this month, facing two consecutive weekends without a game on the schedule before returning to action against Harvard and Dartmouth on the first weekend in February. It’s not a new thing, Quinnipiac has dealt with this for several years as a member of ECAC Hockey, but has had success getting non-conference games to fill some of the void in late January. This year, an agreement with the US National Team Development Program fell through and the Bobcats had two weeks off.
With that comes some challenges, but also some opportunities to heal physically and set things up for the final eight games of the regular season.
“We definitely need to stay sharp and we want to be fresh and healthy for the stretch run,” Pecknold said. “We’ve been really banged up at the end of the year the last two or three seasons, and this gives us a chance to rest some players. For example, if we were playing this Friday we would probably be without two regulars in our lineup due to injury, but they will probably be ready to go when we play Harvard.”
The spring semester hasn’t started yet at Quinnipiac, so there was plenty of time for practice as well as team activities. There was an extra day off for the players, but they’ve also spent time this week volunteering at youth hockey practices in the area. This weekend, they’ll head outdoors for some ice time and also help young players as well as a learn-to-skate group on the outdoor rink.
Some shootout contests and fresh drills have been cycled into the normal practice routine, but there’s also some serious work being done. Quinnipiac is focusing on some areas that have generally been pretty good according to Pecknold’s assessment through the first 26 games of the season, but can be solidified for the end of the season.
“We’ve been pretty good defensively but we can be better in our zone and in the neutral zone. The penalty killing has been good but needs to be more consistent,” he said. “And we’re still not scoring as many goals as we could be. I’m happy with the chances we’re getting, but that is probably down to a lack of confidence.”
The top line of Connor Jones, Kellen Jones and Matthew Peca has carried the scoring load for Quinnipiac and junior defenseman Zack Currie has really emerged as a go-to player and top-pair defenseman for the Bobcats. Currie has seven goals and 14 points on the year, after totaling just 16 points in his first two seasons.
Quinnipiac gave itself some momentum into this time off with a convincing win over nationally-ranked Colgate Saturday afternoon at home. The Bobcats were one-goal losers to Cornell despite outshooting the Big Red 33-19 in the game on Friday, then trailed 1-0 to Colgate after the first period Saturday. Quinnipiac outscored the Raiders 7-0 over the final 40 minutes and got goals from seven different players.
“That was a huge win because you can’t get swept at home,” Pecknold said. “It was imperative. Forget about the break, forget about the fact that you need the two points, we just had to get the win. Colgate played very well in the first period, and then we really got it going.”
With a 13-8-5 record so far, and 5-5-4 mark in ECAC Hockey, Quinnipiac has positioned itself to chase a top-four spot in the league playoffs and with a very strong finish to the year and deep run in the ECAC Hockey tournament is still in contention for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. How the Bobcats manage this time off, and if they can maintain their health will go a long way toward determining the team’s fortunes down the stretch.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• It’s an interesting little road trip for Harvard, as the Crimson have shown signs of making a move this season but have also let some games get away from them – most recently by squandering a two-goal third-period lead against Boston University. After a nice comeback tie at North Dakota in late December, Harvard is poised to line up against two of the top teams in ECAC Hockey with contests at Colgate and Cornell this weekend.
• Brown has just one loss in its last seven games (4-1-2), and that was a 3-2 overtime loss at home to Princeton. The streak started with a 6-4 win over Yale at home in early December, and in the other three wins and two ties the Bears didn’t allow more than two goals. That’s been enough for an offense that ranks 45th nationally in goals per game, and Brown has evened its record at 7-7-3 overall and 4-4-2 in the league.
• Princeton is another interesting case, as the Tigers have just one loss in their last six (2-1-3). In addition to the aforementioned overtime win over Brown, Princeton probably had its best overall weekend of the year with a 6-2 win over Colgate and a come-from-behind 3-3 tie with Cornell. Princeton scored three goals in the third period of that tie against the Big Red to rally from a three-goal deficit. The Tigers are outscoring their opponents 27-22 in the third period of games this year.
• Eight teams in the ECAC Hockey standings are within two games of the .500 mark in league play, which will set up a frenetic finish to the regular season that will see some drastic standings shifts if teams come away with four-point (or zero-point) weekends.
• If you didn’t catch this week’s INCH Hobey Tracker, check it out for prominent mentions of Colgate’s Austin Smith and Union’s Troy Grosenick.