Rapture: Frozen Four Day

Matt Mugno

The Bobcats’ biggest game in nearly a decade has the attention of the entire hockey world, and will be played in Amalie Arena, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning, at 8:30 pm tonight. 

Rand Pecknold, Jayden Lee, Michael Lombardi and Zach Metsa took the podium at the post-open practice press conference. A long way from Hamden. A radically different environment from M&T Bank Arena. 

Pecknold was restless to get to the rink. The coach of 600 wins knows the type of contest that lies ahead. 

“That Michigan team was one of the most talented teams ever assembled in college hockey, and this one is not far behind,” Pecknold said. “If we play to our identity and let our culture come through, we have more than a chance.”

The identity and culture will have to come through on the biggest stage in college hockey.

For most of these players, it’s their first time playing in an NHL arena. For Lombardi, he had played in Nassau Coliseum as a freshman. For Metsa, he was a scratch that game. 

For Jayden Lee, it is his first experience. 

“It’s surreal, the guys you watched on TV growing up as a kid, the guys you look up to, they’ve stepped foot in the same locker room, through the same hallway, it’s special to know,” Lee said.

In a season that saw the “York Hill Boys” line and “Sherbrooke Boys” duo ooze offensive talent and acumen, it started with the buy into a culture Rand Pecknold often refers to.

For the first time all year, Pecknold unsheathed the curtain of what that means to him. 

“I could take an hour to explain how we develop it,” Pecknold said. “You need to recruit high IQ high character kids… they must be a great kid. My son’s a 05’ I’ll say ‘I like this kid’ on this team and Joe (Dumais) will say he’s not a Bobcat. You’ll pull your hair out.”

Metsa compared Lipkin to a “sponge” and Graf “dumping whatever habits he had at Union to become a Bobcat.”

The Bobcats lost in the ECAC Semi-Final, and quickly adjusted to win the Bridgeport regional. 

The 49th captain in Quinnipiac history explained what it’s like to return as a fifth year, extending his statement before the ECAC Semi-Final that the team has “Won a lot but not much.”

The seasoned blue liner said, “I’d still agree with what I had said…the Whitelaw we wanted really bad and that slipped away from us in our career…it’d mean the world to bring a national championship back to Quinnipiac.”

To do so they’ll have their toughest task of the season. As for defending and playing against potential first or second overall NHL draft selection Adam Fantilli, Rand Pecknold offered praise and a game plan. 

“I mean just watching him, he’s just such a dominant athlete,” Pecknold said. “He’s a thoroughbred. He makes stuff out of nothing; you think you have him shut down and then it’s under the bar.”

He continued with the style of defense that’s led to success against top programs this season.

“For us, we got to deny time and space,” Pecknold said. “He’s a lot easier to defend when he doesn’t have the puck… prepared to defend him in waves, he is going to beat people. If he beats one, we got another one, two we got another one, sometimes you gotta have a fourth guy.”

The Bobcats have confidence despite the hype around Fantilli and Michigan’s tantalizing offense. Lombardi didn’t shy away from vocalizing Quinnipiac identity. 

“They have a lot of draft picks and high praised players, but we work harder than any team in the nation,” Lombardi said. “You see bad body language on other teams, that doesn’t happen on our team. Next rep, keeping everyone accountable. That’s why we have success.” 

Hard work could get you a championship, but it’ll certainly get you a free meal. The class of 2017 picked up the tab on the team’s first dinner in Tampa. A familiar man to the area, Devon Toews, won the Stanley Cup last year on the same ice that he lost the 2016 national championship. 

Toews echoed a message to the team that clearly impacted Michael Lombardi. 

“He’s played in the biggest stages and won the Stanley Cup…and a lot of what he regretted was not bringing a national championship back to Quinnipiac,” Lobmbardi said. “That really stuck with us.”

The insights of Lee, Lombardi, Metsa and Pecknold were the calm before the storm. Anything can happen. Today is the day for the Bobcats. A win advances the Hamden Heavyweights to the National Championship. Rapture. The puck drops at 8:30 PM. Listen to the call on QBSN.