That has been Rand Pecknold’s plan from the start, going back to when he became Quinnipiac’s head coach in 1994 and taking over “maybe the worst Division III team in the country,” he said on Friday.
“Probably not the salary coach hoped at the start,” Bobcats junior Soren Jonzzon chimed in.
Pecknold’s starting salary was $6,700, but he needed the job. Since taking it he’s taken Quinnipiac hockey from Division III to Division I, and in Division I from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (now Atlantic Hockey) to the ECAC when Vermont left for Hockey East in in 2005.
That’s also the year Quinnipiac changed its nickname from Braves to Bobcats.
What hasn’t changed is Pecknold’s plan.
Deny time and space.
That’s how Quinnipiac has closed the gap to become No. 1 in the nation and play for its first national championship Saturday night against North Dakota at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
The relentless process has become so ingrained in the team’s identity that junior defense Devon Toews said “it’s just another game to us.”
He meant it’s business as usual for Quinnipiac. “Focus on the game,” Jonzzon added, “not the endpoint.”
The Bobcats have been here before, losing to No. 1 Yale 4-0 in the 2013 national championship game. This time, the Bobcats are not settling for being happy to be here. This time, Jonzzon said, “We’re here to win a national championship.”
“Take away time and space,” Toews said, “and we’ll be fine.”
Pecknold’s plan has carried Qunnipiac to a 32-3-7 record this season, the ECAC regular-season championship and, for the first time, the ECAC Tournament title. It carried the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed to a 3-2 victory against Boston College in the Frozen Four semifinals Thursday, when the Bobcats jumped to an early 2-0 lead, smothering BC in the game’s opening 10 minutes.
“We want to do that to anybody we play,” said Pecknold, the national coach of the year. “We want to deny time and space. If those (BC) kids have time, they’re going to make plays. And we had to kind of get up in their face a little bit.”
The Bobcats will have to do it again against North Dakota, but that’s the plan. And the Bobcats don’t need to be reminded how good UND is. Last year, the Fighting Hawks beat Quinnipiac 4-1 in the NCAA Tournament opener. UND leads the all-time series against Qunnipiac 3-0.
“I love the way North Dakota plays,” Pecknold said. “They pressure. They go. There are similarities.”
There are also differences. North Dakota appears more fluid offensively with its CBS Line of Drake Caggiula, who scored two goal in UND’s 4-2 victory Thursday against Denver, Brock Boeser and Nick Schmaltz, who scored the game-winner against the Pioneers.
Meanwhile, Pecknold said the Bobcats are masters of “gritty, greasy goals,” banging around and crashing the net.
“We have to do well what we do well,” Pecknold said.
Deny time and space.
If they do, there’s no denying this will be the Bobcats’ time and place.