Banged up Bobcats tie Harvard

Banged up Bobcats tie Harvard
by Seth Rothman
January 5, 2008 

HAMDEN — It was another on-again off-again effort for the Quinnipiac Bobcats.

Fortunately for Quinnipiac, it did not add up to another loss. Instead, the Bobcats (10-5-3, 3-3-3 ECAC) skated to a 3-3 tie with the Harvard Crimson (6-6-3, 5-3-2 ECAC) in front of 3,392 at the TD Banknorth Sports Center in Hamden on Friday night.

The contest started well for the homestanding Bobcats.

11:34 into the opening stanza, Dan Travis sent the puck towards Harvard netminder Kyle Richter. After Richter made the original save, Brandon Wong had a whack at it. When he couldn’t put it home on the near side, Bryan Leitch tried on the far side. Bingo — 1-0 Bobcats.

Fifty-three seconds later, the Bobcats struck again. After Leitch got the puck deep, Jamie Bates found Ben Nelson streaking through the slot. Nelson took the puck on the fore-hand, switched to the back-hand, and roofed it past Richter for a quick 2-0 lead.

After Harvard’s Michael Biega cashed in on a 2 v 1 opportunity with 3:57 left in the first, Dan Travis capitalized on a bad rebound given up by Richter. Brandon Wong took a shot from the point, and the puck squirted into the slot. Travis was right there for his sixth of the season with 16.3 seconds remaining in the first.

Despite the Bobcats 3-1 lead after one frame, Bobcats head coach Rand Pecknold was not pleased with his team’s effort.

“I wasn’t really happy with how we played the first,” Pecknold said. “I know we were up 3-1, but I thought we were very sloppy defensively, didn’t take care of our defensive zone very well, and sluggish on the back-check. What we did do well, when we got chances, we finished. We got the puck to the net — got some pretty dynamic kids that can make plays when they get a chance.”

“I thought the first 10-15 minutes we weren’t executing very well,” Harvard coach Ted Donato said. “I think we had breakdowns that allowed them to get outnumbered rushes. After that, we did a better job.”

“We’ve been talking about getting a better start these past few games,” Crimson senior captain Mike Taylor said. “We come out the first one or two shifts really good, but then we end up taking a string of penalties that kills our momentum. Today we came out flat. I don’t know if it was the bus legs or traveling, but we definitely need to improve our start. We were a little sloppy, and we didn’t have a lot of energy in the first period.”

Once again for the Bobcats, the intensity — or lack thereof — was a factor.

“I just don’t think our intensity was where it needed to be,” Pecknold said. “Our commitment to winning wasn’t where it needed to be.”

“Overall, it wasn’t what we expected,” Travis said. “Coming off a good weekend at Vermont, we were expecting a little more intensity. We just didn’t have it tonight. We were fortunate to get a point; we’re always happy to get a point in this league.”

Both coach and player agreed that part of the blame for the Bobcats lack of intensity had to do with the emotional high of winning the Catamount Cup.

“A little letdown from the weekend, we were on a pretty good high from the weekend and maybe we thought things would come a little easier than they did tonight,” Travis said. “We’ll get out of here with a tie, take the point, and look forward to Dartmouth.”

“We did not have a good week of practice this week. Tuesday and Thursday’s practices were atrocious and it translated into our game Friday night,” Pecknold said. “I thought we had it going, we’ve won five in a row, and our intensity had been great in all five of those games. It was excellent last weekend in Vermont. You wish there was a light switch you can flip on and off, but there’s not.”

Meanwhile, the other locker room was much more relieved with the result after Harvard scored two second period goals to tie the game.

“I’m proud of the way our guys battled,” Donato said. “We dug ourselves a hole early on, but really competed for the last fifty minutes, really. We dug in; it was a heck of an effort the rest of the way.”

For Quinnipiac, the injuries on the blue line are starting to take its toll. Senior Matt Sorteberg, junior Mark Nelson, and freshman Jake Bauer all did not dress for Friday’s game due to various injuries, and none of them are expected to play on Sunday.

“We’re so short-handed right now with the injuries that we have,” Pecknold said. “Bates played tonight, but he’s practiced twice in a month (due to a concussion) and he was out of gas tonight; he struggled with his conditioning. We need to play so hard, and have great intensity to overcome the kids we have out of the lineup.”

Harvard, who employed very hard hitting throughout the game, nearly added to Quinnipiac’s M.A.S.H. unit. With 8:46 remaining in the third, Harvard senior David MacDonald hit Bobcats junior Bryan Leitch high, taking a penalty and briefly sending a dazed Leitch to the bench. The first line winger missed a shift and returned to the game shortly thereafter.

“That’s something we always try to focus on,” Taylor said. “It helps us play our game better, which is dump it in and forecheck teams. The more we establish the body, the more other teams tend to back off. That’s something we try to do every game, but some games, like tonight, we do it better than others.”

“They have some big, strong kids that are physical,” Pecknold said. “They were trying to finish their checks, and they did a good job at that.”

As WQAQ reported earlier on Friday, another big story coming into action today is the dismissal of goaltender Peter Vetri, who has been dismissed from the University due to academic reasons.

“The only comment I’ll make on that is that he was dismissed because he didn’t handle his academic responsibilities,” Pecknold said.

The loss of Vetri means junior Bud Fisher will now likely get nearly every start for the rest of the season, should he stay healthy. It’s a situation reminiscent of last year when Fisher started all but one game, and Pecknold isn’t worried.

“Bud Fisher’s pretty good too, and Pat McGann is a really good goaltender, so we’ll be fine,” Pecknold said.  “Bud played well last weekend, and played great again tonight.”

Certainly, the goaltending was not the problem for the Bobcats on Friday. In fact, Pecknold put the blame squarely on his team defense — not just the blue-liners, but the forwards in their own zone.

“All sixty minutes we were sluggish from a defensive standpoint,” Pecknold said. “Our forwards and our D-core struggled a little bit, and we just didn’t get the offensive opportunities in the second or third periods that we did in the first.”

As he’s been forced to do often this season, Pecknold was highly complimentary of his opponent.

“[Harvard] played well. They’re well coached; they got a ton of talent,” Pecknold said. “They’re not ranked right now, but I think they’re a top 20 team in the nation, and they showed it tonight. They played a great road game, they battled back from down 3-1, you have to be impressed with how they played tonight.”

So now, the Bobcats have to get ready for Dartmouth on Sunday. Pecknold says he’s happy the team has the extra unusual day off.

“After tonight’s game, I love it. We need a day to recover,” Pecknold said. “I think it’s better for the student-athlete. You only get so many games during a year, and to play them back-to-back, sometimes you waste opportunities.”

“[We need to] remember what we did when we played Vermont,” Travis said. “Get the puck in deep, work hard, try and get pucks to the net, I don’t know what we had for shots tonight, but it definitely wasn’t enough (20). Do what we do well, keep the game simple, and I think we’ll be fine.”

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