No longer a Cinderella, Quinnipiac looks to realize dream with a national title

Quinnipiac defenseman Alex Miner-Barron (8) celebrates the team's 3-2 win over Boston College during an NCAA Frozen Four men's hockey semifinal, Thursday, April 7, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

(WTNH)–One game.

That’s all that separates Quinnipiac University from a national championship; this unlikely, startup hockey power that rose from the shadow of Sleeping Giant Mountain in Hamden, itself a sleeping giant on the college athletics landscape.

Quinnipiac is a beautiful place–its idyllic campus probably sells itself best to high school kids and their parents, even more so than the impressively modern buildings and state-of-the-art schools.

The university has been on the rise for years now, as evidenced by a new residential area on York Hill that looks like a ski lodge and the eighth-wonder-of-Connecticut adjacent to it–a basketball and hockey arena that could, if it wanted to, host both sports at the same time.

Quinnipiac goalie Michael Garteig (34) makes the save on a shot by Boston College forward Matthew Gaudreau (21) during the first period of an NCAA Frozen Four semifinal college hockey game Thursday, April 7, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Quinnipiac goalie Michael Garteig (34) makes the save on a shot by Boston College forward Matthew Gaudreau (21) during the first period of an NCAA Frozen Four semifinal college hockey game Thursday, April 7, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Most of the school’s sports have made the jump from the low-buget Northeast Conference to the MAAC, a giant step up in terms of competition. The field hockey team even moved up to the Big East–where it will take on the likes of UConn, Villanova, Providence and Georgetown (as well as Temple and Old Dominion).

The hockey programs moved from the MAAC to the ECAC, an even bigger step up that has put the Bobcats in position to compete with the sport’s blue bloods on both the men’s and women’s side. The women were ranked as high as No. 3 this season.

Of course–men’s hockey’s success is still an incredible Cinderella story–as head coach Rand Pecknold can attest to.

“When I took the job at Quinnipiac (in 1994), my plan was okay, this is maybe the worst Division III team in the country, and I’ll build it up, we’ll be good in two or three years, and then I’ll move on to something better where we can actually make money and survive,” he said.

Pecknold was making $6,700 at the time, practicing at midnight at a high school rink in Hamden and working around his schedule as a high school teacher in Griswold.

“I think where you start looking down the road and maybe we have a chance at this is when we got in the ECAC, luckily Vermont left and gave us that opening and we got in, and then we built our rink. You know, it’s one of the best rinks in college hockey, and that’s when all of a sudden, things changed for us.”

Things have changed quickly. The Bobcats clearly aren’t Cinderella anymore, though they’re still referred to that way by people who don’t follow college hockey closely enough.

Quinnipiac has been arguably the best program in the country since 2013, since it broke through with its first-ever No. 1 national ranking and advanced all the way to the national championship game.

“I think the program’s gotten to the point now where it’s great that we got to the Frozen Four, but we’re here to win the national championship,” Quinnipiac captain Soren Jonzzon said. “Winning would be the next step in the progression of the program.”

So how have the Bobcats gotten so good, so fast?

“I think it’s kind of a culture that’s passed down,” Jonzzon said. “When we came in as freshmen, the seniors really showed us, ‘this is the way we do things,’ and I think we’ve made an effort to pass that culture down.”

On Saturday night, the Bobcats will face North Dakota, a school that has won seven national championships and will be making its 13th appearance in the national title game. But they’re not huge underdogs. They’re heading in as the favorite. They’ve even got North Dakota head coach Brad Berry saying things like this:

“Quinnipiac brings a lot of different things to the table,” Berry said. “They play with a lot of tenacity, a lot of compete. They play with a lot of fire. They have structure. I’d like to think that they mirror a lot of us, and what we do. So, I think it’s going to be a great matchup. We have our hands full tomorrow night, and we’re going to have to bring our A-game.”

If the Bobcats get that one last win on Saturday, maybe they won’t be misrepresented as a Cinderella any longer. Maybe people will learn how to pronounce the school’s name (it’s not that hard), and hockey fans from North Providence to North Dakota will recognize the program as one of the nation’s elite.

Quinnipiac hockey is a sleeping giant no longer.

And neither is the school itself.

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