Friday, October 4, 2019

2019-2020 Quinnipiac Bobcats Men's Ice Hockey Season Preview

Rand Pecknold's team enters as a top ten program in the pre-season polls
It has been six months since the Quinnipiac men's ice hockey team last took to the ice to play a meaningful game. The 2018-2019 ended just one game short of the program's third Frozen Four appearance of this decade when they lost 3-1 to the eventual two-time national champion Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs 3-1 in the Allentown regional final.

The program lost eight players from last years squad including five starters on the back end including the starting goaltender in Andrew Shortridge who signed with the San Jose Sharks organization foregoing his final year of eligibility. Brogan Rafferty also departed early to the Vancouver Canucks while Chase Priskie, Luke Shiplo and Brandon Fortunato all graduated. Up front the Bobcats lost only two players of note in Craig Martin and Scott Davidson. Martin's 30 points will be tough to replace and the leadership of Davidson along with Priskie will also be missed as well. Freshman Matthew Cassidy also is not returning to the program and has headed to the USHL with the Youngstown Phantoms.

Despite the losses on the back end there is a lot of optimism in Hamden this season for another good season on the ice. Quinnipiac also opened as a top ten team in both the and USA Today polls. The team was also picked second in the ECAC coaches poll while they were picked third in the ECAC media poll. Cornell took the top spot in both polls. Junior forward Odeen Tufto was the lone Bobcat to be picked on the ECAC pre-season all league team as he is coming off back-to-back 40 point seasons.

Odeen Tufto is expected to lead a talented Bobcats offense
The strength of the Bobcats is surely with their forwards. They return four of their top five scoring forwards from a season ago in Tufto, Ethan de Jong, Alex Whelan and Wyatt Bongiovanni. Those four combined for 52 goals and a total of 115 points last season so the expectation is they get even better this season. Senior captain Nick Jermain has always had the skill to become a good scorer but he has had trouble staying healthy. Sophomore William Fallstrom had a solid freshman year and should get better along with fellow sophomores Michael Lombardi and Desi Burgart. Quinnipiac adds some talent up front in Edmonton Oilers draft pick Skyler Brind'Amour [son of Hurricanes head coach Rod] and Ethan Leyh who both should see a lot of minutes and become good producers for the Bobcats as freshman. One sleeper to watch out for is red-shirt freshman Guus van Nes. The Netherlands born forward sat out last season and hasn't played in well over a year after aging out in juniors during his final season but he ended up attending the San Jose Sharks developmental camp over the summer.

If there is a potential weakness to this team, its probably on the back end. With Chase Priskie, Brandon Fortunato, Luke Shiplo gone to graduation and Brogan Rafferty leaving after his junior season for an NHL deal with the Vancouver Canucks, the lone upperclassmen back there is senior Karlis Cukste. Quinnipiac has ten underclassmen on the back end. Sophomores Peter Diliberatore and Zach Metsa each got significant playing time a season ago and will need to step up as leaders on the back end and log a lot of minutes along with picking up the point production of the departed Priskie, Fortunato and Rafferty. Fellow sophomores Cam Boudreau and Marcus Chorney saw 21 games and 3 games respectively last season and the hope they can crack the lineup full time this year. Rand Pecknold has moved back forward T.J. Friedmann to defense which on the surface of it doesn't bode well for the defensive corps. In this bloggers opinion that screams of desperation early especially when this team has ten other defensemen on the roster. There are likely to be four scratches a night as coach Pecknold will likely play with seven defensemen on game days. Freshman Logan Britt, Wyatt Head and C.J. McGee should expect to factor highly into the mix. Each of them had successful junior seasons in the USHL, BCHL and NAHL respectively. Britt won the Clark Cup after getting traded to Sioux Falls. Fellow freshman Jayden Lee while undersized was accelerated to Quinnipiac this season after playing in the BCHL a year ago. He was expected to be part of the 2020-2021 recruiting class. It remains to be seen if he is ready for the collegiate level or if he was rushed to Quinnipiac when he could have used another year of seasoning in junior hockey. It may take the Bobcats a half season to get the defense settled out but they have good coaches on the staff who will figure out which parts fit where on the roster.

Keith Petruzzelli will need a strong season if QU wants to reach the NCAA tournament
Goal-tending is another concern in my opinion for Quinnipiac but to a lessor degree. While I have no doubt the talent is there for the position to be very good it all depends on the continued development of junior Keith Petruzzelli. With Andrew Shortridge having departed a year early for a pro contract with the San Jose Sharks, the spotlight now falls onto the shoulders of Petruzzelli who has yet to live up to the hype as a third round pick by the Detroit Red Wings. However, I have heard from a source that Petruzzelli has made big strides this off season and in practices. We just need to see if it translates in success in game action. Freshman Evan Fear is expected to be Petruzzelli's back up and will likely push the veteran goaltender. Fear was strong down the stretch after a trade to Waterloo in the USHL. He posted a 1.99 goals against average along with a .922 save percentage in four playoff games. Josh Mayanja will likely be the third goaltender once again.

Those three goaltenders will have a new goal-tending coach as Jared Waimon has moved on to a scouting position with the Tampa Bay Lightning that was well deserved. He has been replaced by former Bobcats goaltender and goal-tending coach Justin Eddy ('04), who returns to the program for a second stint after coaching back in the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 seasons for the Bobcats.

This will be a big challenge for Rand Pecknold and the coaching staff. While the talent is there, along with expectations high being a top ten team in the country, we have to remember this team has 22 underclassmen on the roster and there are expected to be some growing pains. Quinnipiac has the benefit of great coaches who will work to figure out how to put it all together and once they do it wouldn't surprise me to see this team competing for the Cleary and Whitelaw cups this year along with another NCAA tournament berth. 

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