Quinnipiac celebrates a goal against St Cloud in the 2022 NCAA Tournament. Credit- Rob Rasmussen

Bobcats Survive Late Husky Rally

Allentown, PA- The Quinnipiac Bobcats dominated their regular season with excellent defense. They only allowed three goals four  times this season and never surpassed that total through 40 games played before the NCAA Tournament. They averaged only 18.5 shots given up per game before the dance. On Friday night against the St. Cloud State Huskies, the Bobcats played their highest scoring game of the season and won a game they’re not used to winning.

The first period looked like every Quinnipiac win this season. The Bobcats limited the shots to 7-6 in their favor an potted two goals. Dartmouth transfer Brendan Less fired a rocket from the left point for the first tally of the night early in the period. QU got a second goal from their fourth line late in the frame when TJ Friedmann broke behind the defense and landed his 10th goal of the season. Connecticut’s Bobcats led 2-0 after the intermission.

St. Cloud flipped the script in the second period, dominating the shots 17-4 and netting three goals. Nolan Walker opened the scoring with a redirect just 1:08 into the frame. Minnesota Wild draft pick Sam Henteges tied the game 7:21 into the frame. He found open space in front of Richter Award nominee Yaniv Perets and patiently drew him out t score his 12th goal of the season. Bobcat Head Coach Rand Pecknold probably thought of this goal when describing the defensive effort postgame. “I thought we hung out to dry a lot on a couple ones early on which is uncharacteristic of us. We didn’t defend well in front of them on a couple of them.”

Quinnipiac briefly reclaimed the lead in the frame. Michael Lombardi potted his 14th of the season twelve seconds after the frame’s mid point. But this lead only held for 2:17 of game time . Kyler Kupka fired a seeing-eye shot from the point to tie the score 3-3 ahead of the second intermission.

“We just needed a hard reset,” said Lombardi of the second intermission. “Our resets have been good all year and that’s something we really focus on. We are a mature group…”

That reset was apparent in the first 8:37 of the final stanza. Denver transfer Griffin Mendel started the scoring 37 seconds in with a gorgeous top shelf wire. Eight minutes later, Jayden Lee added some insurance with his fifth goal of the season.  St. Cloud dominated the offensive pace off the final ten minutes, outshooting QU 11-5 and getting one more score. With the goalie pulled and extra attacker on the ice, Nolan Walker scored his second goal and third point of the night to give the Huskies a chance to tie the game in the final 1:16.  Perets and the Bobcats held firm and closed out a 5-4 win.

St. Cloud concludes their season at 18-15-4 for the season. Jaxon Castor stopped 11 of 16 shots faced. Regular starting goaltender David Hrenak was unavailable due to a harsh bought of pneumonia that hospitalized him for five days. He was only cleared for emergency play, not starting by the Huskies’ team doctors.

“What I liked about our team is we never got off for a game,” said St. Cloud Head Coach Brett Larson. “That might have been one of the most complete 60- minute games we played. We were disciplined and didn’t take any penalties. We played hard throughout. I thought we built up our momentum shifts. We got contributions, whether they scored or not, from each line at least from building momentum. I honestly think it was one of our best 60-minute games of the year.”

Graduate student Kevin Fitzgerald and fifth year seniors Hrenak and Easton Brodzinski conclude their St. Cloud careers with two NCHC Regular Season Championships, three NCAA Tournament appearances, and the program’s second Frozen Four trip. Seniors Sam Henteges and Nick Perbix have another year of eligibility, but both are NHL draft picks and possible signees to the Minnesota Wild and Tampa Bay Lightning respectively.

Quinnipiac improves to 32-6-3, the program’s third 30 win season and tying the program record for most wins in a season with the 2015-16 edition of the Bobcats, who reached the National Championship Game.

“I thought coach Larson and his boys, they were good,” explained Pecknold. “Most likely they were better than us and especially that second period, they’re all over us. We haven’t had that those kinds of issues all season long, and we played some good teams.”

Yaniv Perets stopped 30 of 34 shots faced. The four goals was the most he or any Bobcat goaltender has allowed this season, but the 30 saves are second most for any game he’s played this year.

The Bobcats are the lone eastern team to advance past the first round of the NCAA Hockey Tournament this season.

QU will face the Michigan Wolverines for a spot in the Frozen Four on Sunday night. Puck drops at 6:30 PM ET at the PPL Center in Allentown between the Bobcats and Wolverines.