Bobcats bulldoze Merrimack 5-0 in NCAA tournament opener

Zachary Carter

In the wake of an overtime loss in the ECAC semifinal game, a rejuvenated Quinnipiac University men’s ice hockey team made quick work of the Merrimack Warriors, as they skated to a 5-0 shutout victory Friday in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. 

In the first period, both teams played a hard-nosed brand of hockey that set an early, physical tone familiar with games of such high stakes. Merrimack took two early penalties, one for hitting from behind and the other for interference, which put the Bobcats in golden opportunities to strike first. Warriors’ junior goaltender Zachary Borgiel had other plans, dazzling in net, making difficult plays look effortless to thwart any Quinnipiac scoring chance. 

Merrimack head coach Scott Borek faced a difficult choice coming into today’s game. His staff employed a ‘two-headed dragon’ approach to goaltending throughout the regular season as they paired Borgiel with 6-foot-8-inch sophomore Hugo Ollas. Both netminders won at least 10 games in the regular season but Borgiel’s higher save percentage and lower goals-against average made him Borek’s pick to stand to the Bobcats. 

For the first 20 minutes of the game, Borek looked like a genius, as Borgiel stopped all 14 of the Bobcats’ shots on goal.

The following 20 minutes were a different story, however. Less than two minutes into the second period, senior defenseman Jayden Lee played the puck down toward the Merrimack net for Joey Cipillone. Cipillone chopped the puck on net and forced Borgiel to make an initial save but as the puck trickled behind him, Borgiel pushed himself backward, kicking the puck into his own net to give Quinnipiac a 1-0 lead. Cipillone received credit for the goal. 

No more than two minutes later, sophomore forward Collin Graf rushed the puck up the ice, floating it ahead to freshman forward Sam Lipkin, who pushed it ahead one last time to Jacob Quillan. With just Borgiel in front of him, Quillan made a move and ripped a shot past the Merrimack goalie, doubling the Bobcats’ lead. 

Now that Quinnipiac carried all the game’s momentum, they could go to work in putting the game out of Merrimack’s reach. Quinnipiac’s penalty-kill unit worked seamlessly to kill off a Michael Lombardi tripping penalty later in the period. The Bobcats entered the second intermission confidently up 2-0.

Penalties from each team began the action of the final period of play but no goals came from the 4-on-4 play. A few minutes later, the Bobcats set themselves up again to score. Lombardi picked up a deflected pass, moved around a Warrior defender, and fired a wrist shot past the blocker of Borgiel. 

With Merrimack’s wheels falling off, Quinnipiac added two more goals before the game’s end. Quillan, already with a goal and an assist, skated up the right side of the ice with the puck before swerving around toward the left faceoff circle. Moving in toward the red line, he flicked a shot on net that bounced off several players before dropping in for the Bobcats’ fourth goal. 

As time trickled down, Borek pulled Borgiel in hopes to spark a miracle comeback, but a Lipkin empty-net goal in the game’s waning minutes cemented Merrimack’s fate. The second-seeded Bobcats toppled the Warriors 5-0 by the final buzzer. 

Quinnipiac hit the ice of Total Mortage Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut and never looked back. They were able to do so partly because of their proximity to their hometown of Hamden. The distance between the two is just a short drive down the Merrit Parkway, giving Quinnipiac a welcomed boost from the droves of fans who flocked to watch their team compete. 

The Bobcats’ top line of Lipkin-Quillan-Graf combined to score three of the team’s five goals. Not only did their offensive production impress head coach Rand Pecknold, but their effort on the defensive end did as well. 

“They made plays and they competed,” Rank Pecknold said. “But probably the best thing they did was they defended well.”

With every winner, there is a loser. Borek did not speak on the game as much as the season as a whole. He reflected on his team’s journey since the beginning of the year, noting that the Warriors’ first birth in the NCAA tournament since 2011 is inspiring not only for his hockey program but for the university as a whole. 

“I feel great about the next steps for our program,” Borek said. “I’m excited to get working on that, when the time is correct, to make sure that we have a chance to get back to being in these opportunities again because this was a special experience.” 

With a first-round victory under their belts, the Bobcats will hit the ice next against the Ohio State Buckeyes, a team fresh off an 8-1 victory over Harvard in their own opening matchup. Quinnipiac has its work cut out for them but in the NCAA tournament, anything is possible. It all goes down Sunday, March 26th at 4 p.m.