Peca's heroics carry Quinnipiac to Frozen Four in Pittsburgh

The Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, RI site Matthew Peca's hat trick in the East Regional Final. - Jeff Cox

Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Matthew Peca had four goals and an assist in the East Regional including his natural hat trick in the finals.

Quinnipiac University sophomore Matthew Peca made a huge splash on the national scene Sunday night in Providence, RI. The Petawawa, Ont. native tallied the fastest hat trick in NCAA Tournament history in a span of just three minutes and 12 seconds of action in the first period. The natural hat trick staked the Bobcats to a 3-0 lead, one they would not relinquish. Quinnipiac skated to a 5-1 win over ECAC foe Union en route to the program's first Frozen Four appearance.

While this isn't the first time people have taken notice of the undersized, shifty forward, the attention is definitely growing. He played his junior hockey initially in relative obscurity for the Pembroke Lumber Kings of the Central Junior Hockey League in his home province of Ontario. Central Junior Hockey is possibly the sixth or seventh most recruited junior league in North America.

In his final season playing juniors Peca scored 26 goals and 46 assists in just 50 games. That caught the attention of college recruits and NHL scouts. Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold described what a prized recruit Peca was at the time. "He's a big time player. That was a huge recruit for us to land. He had everybody in on him. It was a big fish for us to land," said Pecknold who's in his 19th season as bench boss at QU.

The summer before joining Quinnipiac, Peca heard his name called at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. He was taken in the seventh round, 201st overall, by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Peca has spectacular hands and nifty moves in the offensive zone. He's got that deceptive burst of speed and shifty quickness in tight areas that makes him such a threat offensively. He's also an all-around player which his coach chooses to emphasize.

"The goals are pretty spectacular, but he's a complete hockey player. He is one of our best penalty killers. I think he's third or fourth in the ECAC in faceoffs. He does all the little things well. He blocks shots. When I've got the high end guys like him blocking shots, all the guys do it," said Pecknold.

Off the ice, Pecknold says he's a terrific role model who represents Quinnipiac with class. "He's an A+ kid. He's an awesome kid," said his coach.

Following his huge weekend in Providence at the East Regional where he had four goals, Peca now has 15 goals and 15 assists on the season. He was named the Most Outstanding Player of the regional. This former top forward at the RBC Cup in Canada will look to add to his totals next week at the Frozen Four. Quinnipiac will face WCHA Regular Season Champion St. Cloud State in the second semifinal in Pittsburgh.

Jeff Cox covers college hockey for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.

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