Trail’s Travis St. Denis, Scott Davidson, Craig Martin and the rest of the Quinnipiac University Bobcats are on their way to the Frozen Four after winning the NCAA Division 1 Eastern Regional hockey championship on the weekend.
The number-1 ranked Bobcats finished the season with the best record in NCAA hockey at 31-3-7, and beat 16th seed Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) 4-0 in the semifinal Saturday, before dismantling the UMass-Lowell River Hawks 4-1 on Sunday to secure their second trip to the Frozen Four in four years.
“We’re excited to get to Tampa and compete in the Frozen Four,” said Bobcats coach Rand Pecknold. “It’s been a great run for us this year. We made this goal last spring, and the guys have worked hard to make that goal a reality.”
The River Hawks opened the scoring early on the power play, but Quinnipiac scored three times in the second period on goals from Landon Smith, Sam Anas, and Davidson, who tallied his fourth goal in five games and ninth of the season, to give the Bobcats a 3-1 lead heading into the final frame. St. Denis scored the only goal in the third period to ice it, as QU held UMass-Lowell to just 15 shots on former Penticton Vee goalie Michael Gartieg, while firing 31 at Hawks goalie Kevin Boyle.
Both Davidson and St. Denis also scored in the semifinal win over RIT, with St. Denis netting the winning goal on the power play at 14:45 of the first period.
St. Denis, a former Trail Smoke Eater, is the only player on the Bobcats hockey team to have seen any action in the 2013 NCAA Frozen Four when the Bobcats lost to Yale 4-1 in the final. Back then, St. Denis was a mere freshman on a team led by Montrose twins Connor and Kellen Jones and a healthy contingent (11) of senior players. This year the team has just four seniors that are regular players, but this time St. Denis, who finished second in scoring with 22 goals and 46 points, hopes for better results.
“It was fun going to the Frozen Four my freshman year,” St. Denis told the New Haven Register. “It definitely set the bar high for us seniors. We’ve been there before, and the expectation the past two years was to go back. To be able to get back is something special, especially with how close we’ve been before.”
In the past two years Quinnipiac was knocked out of contention by Providence in 2014 and North Dakota last year in the first round of the Regional playoffs, a grim reminder of how difficult it is to make it to the promised land.
“Our run in 2013 to the No. 1 ranking for a chunk of the season and the Frozen Four, I think it galvanized our school,” said Pecknold. “We realize that we are a young program, and we’re in there with the big boys. It’s unusual that we’re the No. 1 seed in the tournament and we’re sort of the underdog, but we’re going to embrace that challenge.
“We’ve had the No. 1 ranking all year, but in the media we’re sometimes cast as the newkid on the block, and that’s fine. It’s interesting with those three storied programs. We’re going to come in and be confident and prepared.”
Quinnipiac’s success over the past five years almost defies explanation, considering the size of its enrolment is less than 6,000 students. The Bobcats broke its record for most wins in a season, 31, and have the least losses, 3, of any team in the Frozen Four since Michigan in 1999. But Pecknold recognizes that success breeds success, and recruiting five Greater Trail players over that time hasn’t hurt.
“Without question, within the last five years we’ve moved up the chart on the recruiting trail, but it’s still hard. There are still the few big programs that get all the first-round draft picks. We’re trying. But we get the right kinds of kids here who want to play a team game and make sacrifices for us to win. We’ve been able to move up the ladder and close more deals than we would have seven or eight years ago, but we’ve still got a ways to go.”
Davidson along with Anas and Devon Toews were named to the All-Touranment East Regional Team. Toews had two assists in the Bobcats’ 4-0 win against RIT on Saturday, while Davidson scored in both games. Anas had an assist against RIT and a highlight-reel goal against UMass Lowell.