Niagara flies past Bobcats

Niagara flies past Bobcats
by Seth Rothman
January 25, 2007

HAMDEN — Before the game, the Quinnipiac Administration tried controlling the Bobcats loud and energetic student section.

During the game, Niagara (14-8-1) succeeded in controlling Quinnipiac (14-6-3) on the ice, defeating the Bobcats 5-1 in front of a capacity, near record crowd of 3,442 at the TD Banknorth Sports Center on Friday night. The loss ends Quinnipiac’s 10 game unbeaten streak at 9-0-1. 

Before the game started, Assistant Director of Athletic Promotions and Ticketing Steve Colvin took to the microphone and reminded the Quinnipiac student section not to use foul language, including “a word that rhymes with duck,” as he said.

Well, when each Niagara starter was introduced, the students continued their custom of using the offending word to describe each players’ proficiency on the ice — accompanied by a horn over the loud speakers, an attempt at bleeping the word while it was being screamed by the nearly 1,000 students.

Once the game started a few minutes later, it was the Quinnipiac offense that was bleeped by Niagara’s hard working defense — much to the enjoyment of the Purple Eagles.

“That’s about as thorough a road effort as we’ve had all year,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “We did everything well — we were good on the rush and great defensively against a really good offensive team.”  

Bobcats coach Rand Pecknold was not as happy.

“Verbatim, we talked about exactly what they did. A big focus was not to give up the odd-man rushes. That’s all I talked about all week, that’s all we talked about right before we went out, and I think we gave up nine or ten in the first period,” Pecknold said. “It’s really unbelievable. For the season we’re having, and how coachable we’ve been, it was clearly our most uncoachable outing of the year.”

It started early, when Quinnipiac was about to be called for a penalty nearly nine minutes into the contest. Before the Bobcats touched up to stop play, Niagara’s Bryan Haczyk brought the puck into the zone and fired it to Dan Sullivan. His shot from the slot deflected off Bobcats goaltender Bud Fisher and trickled into the net before Fisher could find the puck to stop play.

“We’ve won four of our last five, and we rolled four lines which we haven’t been able to do all year,” Burkholder said. “We finally have pretty good chemistry on all four lines. From where I was standing, I couldn’t tell my first line from my fourth line, which is really good.”

“First off, I’d like to congratulate Niagara,” Pecknold said. “I thought they played a great hockey game tonight. Their kids played hard, they were physical, and Pagliero was excellent in net. There’s no question the better team won tonight. They were ready to play and we weren’t.”

“You have to give a lot of credit to Niagara; they outworked us in every aspect of the game tonight,” Quinnipiac captain Jamie Bates said.

While Quinnipiac briefly tied the game on the power play when Bates and Ben Nelson conspired to find winger Bryan Leitch on the doorstep, the success was short lived.

3:23 after tying the game, the Bobcats were back in the red — a place they would stay for the rest of the contest — when Niagara’s Ryan Olidis blasted a wrister past Fisher after the puck got caught up in Leitch’s skates. For Olidis, it was his first career goal.

“Across the board — our forwards weren’t staying high on the forecheck, they were lazy on the backcheck, they were puck-watching in the neutral zone, and our D really struggled,” Pecknold said. “We gave up three breakaways in the first period.”

“It’s hard to put your finger on what went wrong tonight, I guess we probably just got a little bit complacent,” Bates said. “We obviously didn’t respect them as much as we should have, and they’re a good hockey team. If we’re not ready to play, they’re going to do that to us again tomorrow night.”

Pecknold said he was unimpressed with his forwards, especially in the neutral zone. He thought Niagara’s team speed may have played a role in the lopsided score.

“I think a little bit of it was because we were below the puck, if our forecheck was better with our guys staying high and above the puck [we would have given up less], but we were always below and chasing it,” Pecknold said. “We had three forwards always following the puck. I use the analogy a lot, like six year olds playing soccer. I don’t know if you guys have ever seen that, but 11 kids go to the ball, and 11 kids go to the ball, and that’s what we were doing today. We just kept following the puck, and over pursuing in the neutral zone and the defensive zone.”

It’s the same situation Quinnipiac found itself in last January when these two teams played in northern New York. Niagara’s speed created multiple odd-man rushes, and Quinnipiac was unable to stop them.

“Ultimately, we got outworked tonight. We got out-competed and out-coached,” Pecknold said. “Like I said, it was our most uncoachable game of the year, I’m pretty frustrated and embarrassed with how we played; to give up that many odd-man rushes to a team that we did the same things to last year when we played them.”

“The intensity wasn’t there, playing smart wasn’t there, at times when we did try to work hard, all three forwards would go hard and let the puck get by for a 3-on-2,” Bates lamented. “They’re a good transition hockey team. We focused during the week on cutting that down, and we went out there tonight and probably gave up ten to 15 odd-man rushes. We can’t do that and beat them.”

“We did the exact same thing [last year] and lost. We gave up power-break after power-break, talked about it, showed video on it, and we go out and do it again,” Pecknold said. “I think our game-plan’s good, we just need to execute it. The power-break situation is baffling. That’s exactly what we need to not allow happen, and they happened left and right. Even late in the game we gave up a bunch. There’s no real reason why. Guys are being selfish, just thinking offense, playing lazy and not getting back for the puck.”

“Game-plan, I don’t think you can change much,” Bates said. “Coach, as he does every night, gives us a game-plan, and as guys on the team, we just have to come ready to play tomorrow night. We were not ready to play tonight, and let’s hope it doesn’t happen again tomorrow night.”

Because, as the players and coach realize, if it does happen again tomorrow night Quinnipiac could find themselves on the outside, looking into the NCAA Tournament from the stands. Before the game tonight, Quinnipiac was ranked 12th in the Pairwise Rankings — the system used by the NCAA to determine seeding in the tournament.

After the game, the ranking fell to a three-way tie for 13th, according to After tiebreakers, the web-site says Quinnipiac would have the 14th seed.

“That’s probably the furthest thing from our mind right now, but Niagara probably cost us the tournament last year (when they swept the Bobcats in 2 games), and they’re in a good position to do it again this year,” Bates said. “We probably won’t mention it before the game tomorrow night, but it’ll definitely be kicking us in the butt if we don’t come out on top tomorrow night.”

“If we want to go to the NCAA Tournament at the end of the year, tomorrow’s a must-win,” Pecknold said.

So, that’s where Quinnipiac’s attention turns. Not to the theater in the stands, not to the lopsided score tonight, but to tomorrow night.

“It’s a huge character check with how we’re going to play,” Pecknold said. “Niagara’s going to play well tomorrow night, they’re confident right now. We have a lot on the plate to come out and beat them. I don’t think we really match up well with them, but that happens from time to time; you have to find a way to win.”

“We’re used to playing doubles (playing the same team on back-to-back nights),” Burkholder said. “I know the ECAC isn’t used to playing opponents on back-to-back nights, but it’s another chance for us to play in a great building, sold-out crowd against a ranked team. We’re fired up.”

“I think Niagara’s pumped up. They just beat the 12th best team in the nation,” Pecknold said. “It’s a huge win for their program on the road. Their coach does a good job, and they’ll come back and play hard again tomorrow night. We just have to worry about us, be better prepared, and execute better.”

NOTES:  Bud Fisher’s brother, Mike Fisher, was in attendance. Mike is a winger for the NHL’s Ottawa Senators, and was able to attend because today is the first day of the NHL’s All Star Break… Former Bobcat Peter Vetri has been signed by the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL, a farm team of the Dallas Stars… Current Bobcat goaltender Pat McGann was drafted by the Stars during the 2005 NHL Draft… Tonight’s attendance (3,442) is 2 fans short of the all-time highest attended game at the TD Banknorth Sports Center. Earlier this year, the game vs. Clarkson attracted 3,444 fans… Every game for the rest of the season except the game against Brown on February 10 has already been sold out.

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