ECAC Hockey Tournament: Quinnipiac, Yale to renew acquaintances

The peak of the Whitney Ave. rivalry was last April in Pittsburgh when Yale and Quinnipiac met for the 2013 NCAA Championship. - Justin K. Aller

Another chapter in the Quinnipiac-Yale rivalry unfolds this weekend in Hamden.

Unless Yale and Quinnipiac meet with the national championship trophy on the line again, perhaps no game between the two schools will ever live up to the hype of last April's NCAA Final, won by the Bulldogs.

However, this weekend might come close. The two schools, separated by a mere 15 minute drive, clash this weekend in a best-of-three ECAC Quarterfinal series at the TD Bank Sports Center on the campus of Quinnipiac.

No regular season win could soothe the sting of last April's defeat, but the Bobcats exacted some slight revenge with a win and a tie in the regular season series between the two teams. Yale and Quinnipiac skated to a 3-3 tie in November at Quinnipiac, but Rand Pecknold's team got the upper hand on Yale in a 4-0 win at Ingalls Rink just last month.

Quinnipiac, one of the top teams in the nation for much of this season, earned a bye into the quarterfinals while Yale had to get past Ivy League rival Harvard in the first round last weekend. Keith Allain's squad defeated Harvard, 4-0, in game one before scoring twice in less than a minute in the third period of game two for a 2-1 victory and a series sweep of the Crimson.

Yale senior Kenny Root, one of the feel good stories of last season's Frozen Four in Pittsburgh, has been hot, especially lately. The Pittsburgh, Pa. native has registered at least a point in 12 of the last 15 games and has accrued eight goals and 16 assists for 24 points over that span.

Another offensive weapon Yale coach Keith Allain has in his arsenal is senior and Calgary Flames prospect Kenny Agostino. The senior scored the game-winning goal Saturday and has 14 tallies on the season.

Yale's defense is another strong suit, with known offensive defenseman such as Gus Young, Ryan Obuchowski and Tommy Fallen. However, the most valuable blue liner in this weekend's series could be Boston Bruins prospect Rob O'Gara. The hulking six-foot-four defender is a +16 on the season and will be a key in shutting down, or at least limiting, the scoring chances of Quinnipiac's high-flying, puck possession offense.

Speaking of that high-flying offense, the Bobcats enter this weekend's series as the fourth best offense in the country statistically. The team's speed, skill and ability to cycle the puck has drastically limited opposing team's chances and helped generate a large discrepancy in time of possession.

The top line of senior, twin brothers Kellen and Connor Jones along with freshman Sam Anas has put opposing defenses on notice all season. Anas, out of Potomac, Md., has 19 goals and 21 assists to lead the team with 40 points. Kellen, an Edmonton Oilers prospect, is just one point back with 39 while Connor has 34.

One of last season's postseason heroes, Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Matthew Peca, has 12 goals and 22 assists. His hands and ability to weave through traffic make him a consistent threat. Two big power forwards, Jordan Samuels-Thomas and Bryce Van Brabant, also have double digit goal totals as does Travis St. Denis.

Quinnipiac's defense is led by senior Zach Tolkinen, a NHL Development Camp invitee of the New Jersey Devils last summer. His 0 +/- doesn't appear impressive, but he's a good puck moving blue liner for a big guy and operates in all situations.

A pair of freshmen, Phoenix Coyotes draft pick Connor Clifton of the US National Development Program, and Devon Toews have stepped right in and impacted the blue line positively. Clifton might be as poised as any freshman blue liner in the ECAC.

Junior Danny Federico and sophomore Alex Barron also log a lot of ice time on the back end for the Bobcats.

The goaltending battle will be an interesting one to watch as both participants in last season's national title contest graduated. Yale will trot out freshman Alex Lyon while Quinnipiac will give the nod to sophomore Michael Garteig.

After playing in just two of the first five games, Lyon won the starting job from fellow rookie Patrick Spano. Lyon, a product of the Omaha Lancers in the USHL, has been solid all season, but has really picked up his game lately.

Over the past four games, he has allowed just three goals, including two shutouts. The Baudette, Minn. native has a .969 save percentage during that time and is 3-1-0 with his only setback in that span being a 2-0 loss against Union.

Garteig has a 1.84 goals against average and a .916 save percentage. He certainly benefits from a stout defense in front of him, but he has made some key saves at times this season. Despite a 1-2-1 record over the last four regular season games, the Prince George, British Columbia native had a 1.24 goals against average and a .939 save percentage.

There won't be a hotter ticket in southern Connecticut than entry to this weekend's series between two bitter rivals. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday with Sunday at the same time, if necessary.

Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.

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