In 1997, Connecticut hockey fans thought that they had forever lost their chance at a championship. That’s when the Whalers loaded up the trucks and headed from Hartford to the promised land – the hockey hotbed of North Carolina. Since then, we’ve had a Calder Cup champion (the Hartford Wolf Pack in 2000) and a Calder Cup Finalist (the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, 2001).
This week, the Quinnipiac men’s hockey team threatened to become arguably the biggest news in the history of Connecticut hockey when the Bobcats leapfrogged over perennial national powerhouse Minnesota and became the No. 1-ranked team in the country in both national polls.
New England had long been a hockey hotbed with the Massachusetts-based teams—Boston College, Boston University, Harvard, UMass-Lowell, UMass-Amherst, Merrimack—often challenging for the top spot and winning a national titles. Indeed, between 2008 and 2010, BC and BU won four of five national titles, with Minnesota-Duluth the only team breaking Beantown dominance in 2011.
Even today, New England schools dominate the Top 25 with BC (4/4), New Hampshire (5/5), Yale (9/10), BU (13/13), UMass-Lowell (14/15) and Merrimack (ranked No. 15 in the USCHO.com poll) making noise.
But sitting alone at the top of the heap is the little school from Hamden—that’s right, HAMDEN!—as the Quinnipiac Bobcats are now No. 1, the first time any Bobcat team has held the No. 1 spot nationally.
"I think it's more than impressive that we're the No. 1 team in the country in only our 15th year as a Division I program," head coach Rand Pecknold said. "They love coming to the rink every day. They have and it’s fun coaching them. We’re pretty fortunate to have this group. And they’re excellent academically. I think we had 20 out of 24 players over 3.0 last semester.”
The Bobcats are currently 21-3-4 overall and 14-0-2 in the ECAC Hockey standings. With a pair of wins on the road last weekend (4-1 at Cornell, 3-2 at Colgate, 3-2), Quinnipiac extended its NCAA-leading unbeaten streak to 21 games. The Bobcats last loss was on Election Day—Nov. 6, 2012. In addition, the Bobcats have already clinched a bye in the first round of the ECAC Hockey Tournament, and can finish no lower than second place in the conference.
Quinnipiac received 983 points and 41 of the 50 first-place votes and 983 total points in the USCHO.com Top-20 poll, which consists of 28 NCAA Division I head coaches as well as 22 media members from across the country. The Bobcats also received 28 of the 34 first place votes in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll. Quinnipiac cracked the Top-5 in both polls on Dec. 31, 2012 and have been receiving first-place votes in both polls over the past five weeks. In addition to the two national polls,
“I’ve never been on a team this tight,” said Eric Harzell, the Bobcats' senior netminder from White Bear Lake, Minn. “From freshman to seniors, everyone gets along and hangs out. It’s been an unbelievable experience.”
“I think it's something our fans, alumni and our administration can enjoy,” added Pecknold. “We'll enjoy it for about 15 minutes…and then get ready to play St. Lawrence."
The Bobcats will host St. Lawrence Friday night, Feb. 15, and then will entertain Clarkson on Saturday night. First puck drops at 7 p.m. for both at High Point Solutions Arena at the TD Bank Sports Center.