Hockey team looking to end losing skid against dangerous Quinnipiac

David La

In 1999-2000, Quinnipiac University created a buzz not normally associated with teams in their second season of Division I men’s hockey.
The Braves dominated the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, going 23-1-3 against league opponents.
Thought to have benefitted from playing in a watered-down conference, Quinnipiac was not allowed to compete in the NCAA tournament.
This season, the MAAC tournament champion receives an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. After stumbling into the tunnel walls last year, the Braves finally have a light to guide them out.
“There’s certainly more excitement involved because now you know what’s on the line,” coach Rand Pecknold said. “I’ve kind of geared our season more to putting us in position to win in March.”
Pecknold also tweaked Quinnipiac’s schedule for 2000-01, putting nationally renowned programs on the slate to test his team while opening the eyes of critics.
In this weekend’s opponent — No. 10 Minnesota — Pecknold and the underdog Braves face a situation similar to the catch-22 ruling which kept them out of the national tournament.
“If they’re ranked number one in the nation it means they’re playing great so you can’t win there,” Pecknold said. “If they’ve lost four in a row, they’re a sleeping giant ready to wake up so you can’t win there.”
What Pecknold is trying to win for his program is a place in college hockey’s who’s who — a distinction which will only come with wins over tough competition.
So far, Pecknold is finding success with this philosophy. A tie with 2000 Frozen Four participant St. Lawrence last month likely garnered a few nods of acknowledgement from skeptics.
And with a 3-2 win at Union last weekend, Quinnipiac can now expect a few introductions and handshakes from converted pundits.
“(Union was) ranked 11th in the country, and we went into their rink coming off a hard game with Rennselear the night before,” Pecknold said. “I think it proved that we can play with the top teams in the country.
“We have all these naysayers against our league and our team saying we’re not really that good, so I think that puts some critics to rest.”
The quest for respectability continues this Saturday as the Braves make their first-ever visit to Mariucci Arena.
Hosting a team which can’t win every night — but can win on any given night — is of concern to Gophers coach Don Lucia.
“Quinnipiac is a lot better than people think they are,” Lucia said. “They’ve got a lot of older, junior players. And for them, it’s the game of the year.”
Pecknold knows the implications of Saturday’s tilt with Minnesota, but reserves `Game of the Year’ accolades for the November weekend at St. Lawrence and Clarkson.
The Braves took a tie and a loss out of the two games, along with renewed fervor for playing inspired hockey.
Freshman goaltender Justin Eddy of Apple Valley, Minn., made a school-record 58 saves against St. Lawrence, allowing Quinnipiac to preserve the tie.
“Eddy was amazing,” Pecknold said. “We rode his back the entire game.”
The tie brought satisfaction, while a 4-2 loss to Clarkson the following evening brought reflection.
“We got our butt kicked a little bit,” Pecknold said. “But the video from those two games provided a lot of teachable moments that made us a better team over the next month.
“It’s too early to comment on an entire season, but at the end of the year, I’ll look back at the weekend with St. Lawrence and Clarkson and call that the turning point.”

David LaVaque covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]