The Departed: A look into the Quinnipiac Bobcats men’s ice hockey teams graduates and senior’s seasons

Matt Mugno

The 2023 National Champions had a strong core of upperclassmen that helped forge their path to glory. Not all their paths, play styles, or moments are like each other.

 For the next generation, it’s not about being the same as the 2023 team. It’s about becoming the best version of the player you are. 

The graduate players contributed to 130 wins, four Cleary Cups, four NCAA tournament appearances, three Regional Finals, and two Frozen Four victories against historic programs in Michigan and Minnesota en route to the program’s first National Championship. 

That’s how the nine skaters and leaders this season realized the ultimate prize. In full, how did their collegiate career roll from start to finish?

Zach Metsa (177 GP, 31 goals 90 assists, 121 points): 

Zach Metsa skated in 32 games during his first season as a Bobcat and shifted between playing as a forward and a defenseman. He broke out as a sophomore recording five goals and 12 assists in a season that ended in cancellation due to the pandemic. 

In 2020-2021, he was named an assistant captain and was tenth in the nation in assists, while he lead all defensemen in assists, points, and power play assists and points. 

As a senior, he was named the 49th captain in program history. It was arguably his best season as a Bobcat. He led the nation in plus-minus with a rating of +38 in Emile Francis’s original stat category. He was named to the AHCA/CCM East All-American First Team. He assisted on Desi Burgart’s double-overtime goal to send the Bobcats to Lake Placid in the ECAC Quarterfinal and he also scored against Michigan in the Allentown regional final.

Ironically, as a returning fifth-year, Metsa recorded the fourth goal of the game against the same juggernaut opponent in the Frozen Four. The captain delivered at the moment to put the Bobcats up 4-2 while playing a majority of the season with Jake Johnson providing the Bobcats with stable two-way play from their rearguard. 

The Wisconsin native would then assist and be the quarterback on all three goals, including the overtime championship winner, en route to the school’s first NCAA title in any sport. 

Metsa is an all-time Bobcat. He embraced the culture and was the leader, the captain through and through. 

Mike Lombardi (175 GP, 38 goals, 41 assists, 79 points):

“Lombo” played a sandpaper style of play that coupled with a large frame and wingspan. As a power-forward, the Rhode Island native broke onto the scene as a junior in the 2020-2021 season. 

With his family living in neighboring Rhode Island, they were able to come and support him at almost every home game during the forward’s career. 

No. four broke out for the Bobcats as a senior where he was tied on the team in goals with players like Ty Smilanic and Wyatt Bongiovanni playing a more skill-based game. 

Lombardi proved to be a post-season performer, but the team ultimately fell short in the ECAC and NCAA tournaments. 

As he enter his graduate year on a line with TJ Friedmann and Joey Cippolone, Lombardi was able to contribute as a checking forward that could change momentum with forecheck, defense, and a strong cycle game. He could also get his legs churning north to attack with speed.

 A big locker room player, he was a major part of the culture in the championship-winning teams dressing room. 

Desi Burgart (153 GP, 25 goals, 26 assists, 51 points):

Growth wasn’t linear for Burgart. As a clone of the style Lombardi played. Burgart’s promising first two seasons lead to a massive breakout as a junior. He hit double digits in goals and as a senior, he recorded 20 blocked shots and scored the double overtime goals against St. Lawrence in a wild comeback in Hamden to send the Bobcats to the ECAC semi-final in Lake Placid. Burgart also scored against Michigan to cut the 4-0 start for the Wolverines to a 4-3 one-goal game in last year’s regional tournament. Head coach Rand Pecknold infamously pulled the goal early in the season-ending regional final. 

In 2022-2023 as a returning fifth year, the assistant captain just couldn’t get healthy. Injuries plagued Burgart, who battled through most of the season and then went on a 10-game absence right before the post-season. He battled back in the return as an extra skater and was effective for the Bobcats. Skylar Brind’Armour even added an “s” to injury, revealing that he was dealing with more than one even as late as the Bridgeport regional final.

Burgart rose from playing small minutes to being able to play on the biggest stage in college hockey with Brind’Armour and Ethan De Jong on Pecknold’s “Second First Line.” 

Ethan de Jong (184 GP, 61 goals, 83 assists, 144 points):

Ethan de Jong has only recorded one season below double digits in goals. As a first-year, he recorded 25 points, as a junior, 29 points, as a senior 32 points, and as a National Champion, he set his career high in points at 40. 

Name a big moment and he delivered. As a rookie, he was tied for 18th in the nation in points. His sophomore campaign was cut by covid; he returned as a junior leading the ECAC in goals and as a senior, he posted a three-point game against St. Cloud to send Quinnipiac to the regional final. 

In 2022 he was named the ECAC Defensive Forward of the Year and played on a line in 2023 with this year’s winner in Skylar Brind’Armour. He was named an assistant captain in 2021 and served for two seasons. 

His last career goal was an empty netter against Michigan in the Frozen Four. With some brand names and a slew of rookies this season, it was easy to overlook one of Quinnipiac’s all-time goal scorers and two-way players.

Skylar Brind’Armour (145 GP, 23 goals, 53 assists, 76 points):

Skylar Brind’Armour scored a goal that was featured on Sportscenter’s top 10 as a first-year in the Battle of Whitney Avenue.

Brind’Armour had the size, speed, hands, and physicality. A physical specimen of the National Hockey League’s desire and he was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers. 

His first few seasons didn’t reflect that, as Brind’Armour needed more time to grow than some of his counterparts, but he bought in.  The name on the back wasn’t the only thing he had to bring to the table. 

His faceoff numbers were always there. As a junior, his play picked up and he doubled his career-high in assists. When it came to the playoffs, the Raleigh native scored five points in six games. 

In 2022-2023, Brind’Armour posted 32 points and tucked in 14 goals. He was named the ECAC Defensive Forward of the Year. Brind’Armour arguably cost the Bobcats the Whitelaw Cup in Lake Placid but redeemed himself as a big game player again by scoring a huge momentum-swinging go-ahead tally against Ohio State in the Bridgeport regional final. 

Brind’Armour is an example of a player with all the right tools that are unlocked at the right time. 

TJ Friedmann (170 GP, 28 goals, 30 assists, 58 points):

The St. Louis native was a project and a player any coach desires to be patient with. In his first three seasons (2018-2021), he scored 13 points combined.

 As a senior, he exploded for 23 points. In five postseason games in 2022, he recorded three points, including timely goals against Harvard in the ECAC Championship, and in the Allentown semi-final against St. Cloud. 

Friedmann provided center depth to a team that thrived on its defense, and transition game and became a faceoff monster by his senior and graduate year. 

His tenacity, speed, penalty-killing capabilities, and chemistry with Lombardi created an effective checking line that helped bring home a National Championship. 

Joey Cipollone (106 GP, 19 goals, 19 assists 38 points):

Joey “Bag a Donuts” Cipollone transferred from Vermont, where he led the team in goals in 2019-2020. 

Cipollone scored five goals in the six games the team played in Total Mortgage Arena, a neutral site of play for the 2022 Connecticut Ice Tournament and 2023 NCAA Regional. 

The grinder rose to the occasion. In 2022, he scored two goals against Sacred Heart in the Connecticut Ice Tournament semi-final in the team’s 3-2 win, and a goal in the ECAC Championship loss to Harvard. 

As a senior, he scored the first goal against Merrimack to blow the game open from a back-and-forth contest to a Quinnipiac dominant victory.

He complimented Friedmann and Lombardi on the Bobcats’ grit line.

Jayden Lee (133 GP, 13 goals, 34 assists, 47 points):

Jayden Lee developed into a puck-moving, mobile defenseman by his junior season, where he tallied 16 points from the blue line. 

As a junior in 2022, Lee lead the team in blocks and changed his name to “clutch,” ending the season on a three-game goal streak. He recorded a goal in the ECAC Championship loss to Harvard, the game-winning goal in a 5-4 duel against St. Cloud in Allentown, and jump-started the failed comeback against Michigan last season. 

Lee became crucial to the team’s National Championship run. Lee led the team with 54 blocked shots and consistently had 10 or more blocked shots ahead of the teammate trailing him. 

Lee scored the empty net goal to send the Bobcats to Tampa Bay, Florida, and recorded five points in eight ECAC and NCAA tournament games. 

CJ McGee (100 GP, six goals, 10 assists 16 points):

The Pearl River, New York native and Don Bosco Prep alumnus blasted his first career collegiate goal to put the Bobcats up 3-1 in the third period over Minnesota State in the 2021 Loveland regional semi-final. The Bobcats would lose that game 4-3 in overtime. 

McGee served as a defenseman and a forward as a senior, and his physical identity and services on offense and defense provided Pecknold a “Taysom Hill” gadget asset in the team’s triumphant post-season campaign. 

Jake Johnson (39 GP, four goals, 11 assists, 15 points) 

Jake Johnson automatically slotted into a top defensive position as a transfer from a conference opponent, RPI. His ability to play big minutes in intense game situations allowed Johnson to succeed, a top-three defender in assists, points, and blocks. 

Johnson scored the game-winning goal late in the third period of the 2023 Connecticut Ice Tournament against UCONN on home ice in one of the top moments of the regular season. 

Johnson’s two-way game and capability to play big minutes against the nation’s most talented forwards saw a transfer from a struggling program become a National Champion in Hamden. 

The Bobcats will lose five players that are fifth years and potentially more unreturning seniors. It’s imperative to note that not all their Quinnipiac careers were the same. 

Every one of these players was unique and learned through growing pains how to hone in on their craft to deliver a championship to Quinnipiac.