You may not know how to pronounce Quinnipiac, but any college hockey fan knows the program has been a national powerhouse in the sport for a while.
The Bobcats are led by longtime head coach Rand Pecknold, who has been at the helm for 26 seasons. Entering the year, Pecknold posted 511 career wins, the third most for active Division I coaches. Quinnipiac has had a winning season 21 out of the past 22 years, including recent Frozen Four berths in 2013 and '16.
Last season, Quinnipiac claimed its fourth Cleary Cup (ECAC Hockey regular-season championship) before falling 3-1 to Minnesota Duluth in the NCAA Tournament's Midwest Regional Final. The 26-10-2 overall record was driven by NCAA statistical goaltender champion Andrew Shortridge and Hobey Baker finalist Chase Priskie. Both have gone on to sign NHL contracts, respectively -- Shortridge with the San Jose Sharks and Priskie with the Carolina Hurricanes.
At times this season, Quinnipiac (12-8-1) has missed Shortridge and Priskie. The Bobcats have suffered losses to Maine (4-2, Oct. 18), Arizona State (twice, Nov. 1-2), Colgate (3-1, Nov. 3), Harvard (7-2, Nov. 9), Cornell (2-1, Nov. 22), UMass (3-0, Nov. 29) and Clarkson (5-2, Jan. 11).
After the loss to UMass, Quinnipiac came back on the following night with Nov. 30's 2-1 triumph to bounce back. The Bobcats did the same against Harvard at home, following Nov. 9's five-goal defeat with Jan. 3's 6-1 rout.
Quinnipiac has a 7-4-1 conference record leading into Friday's game at Holy Cross, which puts the Bobcats at third in the 12-team ECAC standings.
"The last few months have been night and day for us," said junior goaltender Keith Petruzzelli. "We have grown so much over the last few months and we had an awesome three-week break where I feel we worked really hard and we definitely got better as a team. Now, looking at the second half, it is looking like it will be a really good one for us."
Quinnipiac has seen new and old faces step up this year. Sophomore forward Wyatt Bongiovanni leads the ECAC with 11 goals, edging Dartmouth's Drew O'Connor and Clarkson's Haralds Egle by one score. Junior forward Odeen Tufto is second in the conference in points with 23, trailing Egle by one. Tufto is first in assists with 20 while senior forward Alex Whelan is top 10 in ECAC plus-minus, in a three-way tie for seventh at plus-11.
Quinnipiac's new faces are first-year players such as forward Skyler Brind'Amour, defenseman Jayden Lee and forward Ethan Leyh, who have all been named ECAC Rookie of the Week this year.
Petruzzelli has answered questions this season about whether or not he can be a No. 1 option between the pipes. He is third in the conference in saves and fifth in goals-against average.
It was a big deal two years ago when Petruzzelli agreed to become a Bobcat. Since then, the 2017 draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings has seen his Quinnipiac tenure be a roller-coaster ride.
He looked like the answer his first year, after leading Quinnipiac to a road sweep of Yale in the first round of the 2018 ECAC playoffs. Early last season, Petruzzelli looked great when he had his shutout at home in Quinnipiac's 1-0 win over Boston College on Oct. 19, 2018.
However, Petruzzelli fluctuated after the big win, so Quinnipiac turned to Shortridge to solidify the goalie position. This season, with Shortridge gone to the next level, Petruzzelli was handed the keys to the net. He has taken full advantage of the opportunity.
"Our goalie coach has done a great job in getting Keith to adapt a bit," Pecknold said. "His last nine to 10 games, he has just been lights out for us. I think he is really learning how to handle his depth and to get back in a bit. We wanted him to be more aggressive and, now that he also has confidence, he has been really good."