When I headed up to Quinnipiac University’s York Hill campus in late October to cover my first hockey game I was in awe. Walking thru Highpoint Solutions Arena’s glass doors and climbing the concrete stairs to the press box, I was surprised with how incredible the facility was.
Over the next six months the team I would watch there turned out to be pretty incredible, as well.
The standards for this team were set high from day one. Though they were only ranked fourth in the preseason ECAC Hockey poll by coaches and media members, the men inside the Bobcats locker room knew exactly what they could accomplish.
“Everybody is aware that this is a big year for us and there’s a lot of opportunity coming up, so we expect big things,” senior captain Zach Currie told the Quinnipiac Chronicle in early October. “There’s no reason for us to lose to anybody this year, we’re good enough to say that.”
Not many believed him at the time, but Currie was confident for a reason. After getting off to a disappointing 3-3-1 start, Quinnipiac went 13-0-1 over the next two months. By January 7, the Bobcats were second in the country in USCHO’s poll, receiving two first place votes for the first time ever.
On February 11, Quinnipiac took over the number one ranking for the first time in program history. They would hold that spot until March 18, a stretch of six consecutive weeks.
I can remember the excitement continuing to build for the Bobcat’s after the Febuary 2 6-2 triumph over Yale in the rival’s first meeting of the year at Ingles Rink. QU still hadn’t lost since early November, riding an NCAA Division I record 19-game undefeated streak that would end a week later at the final count of 21.
“We have a lot of character and confidence in that locker room,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold told reporters only two days after the first Yale triumph. “It’s a hard combination of ingredients to have, and we have it right now. We’re fearless. We don’t feel like we can lose any games.”
I was in attendance only three weeks later for Quinnipiac’s second win over rival Yale on Friday February 22. That game was televised nationally on NBC sports as the Bobcat brand was still growing around college hockey. Quinnipiac defeated the No. 13 Bulldogs 4-1 in front of a packed house and captured their 11th Heroes Hat.
Goalie Erik Hartzell had 30 saves on 31 shots, and was beginning to capture national attention as a possible Hobey Baker finalist.
It’s obviously a little more fun to sweep Yale,” Hartzell said after the game. “We’ll take it and run with it.”
Unbeknown to everyone that night, the teams would see each other two more times down the road.
I was also there for the Erik Hartzell-Andy Isles goalie bout that ended in double overtime with a Kevin Bui goal on Sunday March 17. That game would send the Bobcats to Providence for the ECAC Semifinal’s.
By now you know the story. Quinnipiac lost to Brown 4-0 in their first game in Providence, then beat Yale 3-0 in the consolation game. It was the third time this season Quinnipiac had defeated their Whitney Ave. rival, outscoring the Bulldogs 13-3 in those games.
By natural cause, fate, or whatever you want to believe, the two then met again in the National Championship.
Yale was red hot, taking off two number one seeds already in Minnesota and Mass-Lowell. The Bobcats were doing what a number one seed was supposed to do: win games. They were coming off of a 4-1 win over St. Cloud State.
Quinnipiac students celebrated the Bobcats’ win over St. Cloud State in the Frozen Four. (Nick Solari)
Students in Hamden celebrated the win over St. Cloud State by gathering in front of the Bobcat statue on QU’s Mount Carmel campus. They chanted “Let’s go Bobcats” for almost two hours. It was a culmination of the season as a whole, as QU students were starting to realize they were one game away from being crowned national champions.
There was something about that celebration. Amidst all of the joy and commotion, the group of students represented something bigger than simply excitement. The private school of about 8,400 students in Hamden, Conn. had put it self on the map.
“It felt really good,” Robert Dery, a freshman on campus said. “Our team finally proved themselves to the doubters. The Quinnipiac community came together and celebrated like a true family. It was wonderful.”
For one night, Quinnipiac University would become the center of the college hockey universe.
This game is what everyone in Connecticut wanted. Televised on ESPN, the two teams would square off in the fourth and final matchup of the year. This time, it wasn’t for bragging rights or the Heroes Hat. It was for much more: A National Title.
Quinnipiac had never been to the national tournament prior, and the last time Yale had been was long before any of its players were born.
You know the story by now. Yale defeated Quinnipiac 4-0, capturing their first NCAA National Title in program history. What was supposed to be an ideal season for QU fans was crushed at the very sight of losing to their biggest rival in the largest game.
Not all was lost, however. Even though the Bobcats came up one win short of their goal, even though they lost to their rival in the last game of the season, and even though their 21-game streak was all for not, Quinnipiac had changed the community in Hamden.
Anticipation is already growing around the school for next season. Though QU lost 11 seniors, an expectation of winning has been formed. The 2013 Quinnipiac hockey team changed the way students and fans think. The public now calls for success at its highest level.
How beautiful that sounds.