Monday, October 25, 2021

Thoughts and Observations from Quinnipiac's weekend split with North Dakota

Quinnipiac defeated North Dakota for the first time on Friday

This past weekend Quinnipiac returned home in front of a home crowd for the first time in 601 days when they welcomed the University of North Dakota to Hamden as the two teams met for the first time since the 2016 National Championship game in Tampa, Florida. One of college hockey's most storied programs finally made the trek to Connecticut in a highly anticipated top ten match-up. The weekend series did not disappoint as Quinnipiac stormed out to a 5-2 win on Friday night before North Dakota returned the favor the following night with a 3-1 win. It was a treat to watch both these teams and it would not shock me to see them play again later in the season. Here are my thoughts and observations from the weekend.

- Friday night was one of the best games Quinnipiac has played in the programs history in my opinion. I definitely rank this as a top ten win since the team made the jump up to Division I level and as its up there with NCAA tournament wins and ECAC tournament wins. The atmosphere was rocking and that was to be expected with fans in the building for the first time in 601 days. Going into this game I felt if Quinnipiac was going to get at least one win, this was going to be the game. The energy and the juice was there as the Quinnipiac scored four unanswered goals after Matteo Costantini got North Dakota on the scoreboard 7:44 into the game. If Quinnipiac can consistently play like they did Friday then they have a chance to go really far this season. 

-  Saturday night saw Quinnipiac get a lot of quality scoring chances on North Dakota but Fighting Hawks goaltender Zach Driscoll's 35 saves were the big difference in North Dakota splitting this series. But I thought that North Dakota had way to much offensive zone time and it helped when they won the face-off battle in game 2 much like it helped Quinnipiac in game 1 when they had more puck possessions because of face-off wins. You have to give North Dakota a ton of credit for the way they responded. They are a well coached talented team that still putting all the pieces together this early in the season. I expect North Dakota to be there as a favorite come March.

- I loved Quinnipiac's offensive output on Friday. Four different Bobcats scored goals including two from transfer Oliver Chau, Ty Smilanic, Jayden Lee and Joey Cipollone. Chau recorded a three point night while Zach Metsa, Ethan de Jong and Ethan Leyh each tallied two assists each. It was the type of balanced scoring attack that made this a very satisfying win and showed that Quinnipiac is a potential dangerous team to play all season long. 

- Quinnipiac's power play finally got going on Friday night with two power play goals by Jayden Lee and Ty Smilanic. It was only a matter of time before they got one as they have been looking solid on the power play but just not converting. The penalty kill's clean streak finally ended as they gave up two goals on the man advantage to Jake Sanderson and Judd Caulfield. It is tough to continue to take penalties and expect to keep a team like North Dakota from converting on man advantage opportunities during this series.

- Man is Jake Sanderson an alpha dog. His high end talent was on full display this weekend including a beauty of a goal on Friday night when he ripped one high short side past Yaniv Perets. He also assisted on the last two North Dakota goals on Saturday. You can see why he was drafted so high as he can move the puck and score from the back end. I wouldn't be shocked to see him on the Ottawa Senators roster by the end of this season. He is that good.

- Of the two Quinnipiac goaltenders that played this weekend, I thought Yaniv Perets was by far the better goaltender between him and Dylan St. Cyr. While neither faced a ton of of shots, 16 for Perets and 19 for St. Cyr, I thought the sophomore played pretty mistake free on Friday. St. Cyr had a terrible turnover on the first North Dakota goal where he played the puck aggressively trying to push the play quick out of the defensive zone that led to a turnover to Mark Senden who buried it home for the tying goal. The second goal he gave up was a scrum in net where the puck was under him and he didn't hold his space to keep the puck out of the net. On the third goal the Quinnipiac defense had a defensive zone turnover leading to a Connor Ford goal. I thought St. Cyr was a little slow closing off the short side that Ford scored on. St. Cyr is clearly in a platoon situation right now at this point in the season but he needs to be better than what he showed on Saturday night against a high end opponent. You may be able to get away with those type of mistakes against the likes of Vermont, but against a North Dakota they will make you pay. I would expect to see Rand Pecknold continue the goaltender platoon but at some point in the season he will likely ride with one of them.

- This was a really physical series with the teams combining for 22 penalties. Its the type of physical hockey you love to see between two really good teams early in the season. As a fan of college hockey, I would love to see a third physical match-up with a team like North Dakota in the NCAA tournament later this season. 

- I thought the Quinnipiac defense was fantastic Friday night closing scoring lanes, moving the puck out of the zone quickly and limiting mistakes. It was a really good effort that unfortunately wasn't matched on Saturday when they turned the puck over, played a lot in their own end and struggled to move the move puck at times. While the performance Saturday wasn't the worst I have seen and probably would have been good enough against weaker teams, it just was not good enough against a caliber of an opponent like North Dakota.

- I definitely want to say thank you to the University of North Dakota for making the long trek out to Connecticut when many teams from out west choose not to. I am hoping we can continue to get teams like North Dakota to come east in the future especially when Quinnipiac returns the favor and heads out to play these teams in their arenas. Its a treat for Quinnipiac fans anytime you can get a western power to come east as we rarely get to see them teams on a consistent basis. 

- Up next for Quinnipiac is the return of Bill Riga to Hamden as the Bobcats face his new team, Holy Cross on Tuesday. Coach Riga's team is 1-4 on the season but he got his first win on the road against Bentley 3-2 on Saturday. This will be an interesting game as while Riga doesn't have the talent to match Quinnipiac but he does have deep inner knowledge of all things in the Quinnipiac program and most of the current players on the team. Former Bobcat Tyler Ghirardosi is the leading scorer for the Crusaders with five points. It is definitely a game Quinnipiac cannot overlook as coach Riga will have his team ready to play come Tuesday night.

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