Quinnipiac faces a daunting task this weekend as the Bobcats travel to the Capital District to face RPI and Union in what will be their last ECAC games for a month. Ranked in the top five of the country and looking to make it back to college hockey's pinnacle event, the Frozen Four, Quinnipiac is 13-2-2.
Rand Pecknold's team has had several tough tests so far this season, including a home-and-home series against UMass-Lowell and home games against Providence and Yale. This weekend might be tougher than all of those games as Quinnipiac will be going up against two very good teams on the road in hostile environments.
First up is a matchup with RPI at Houston Field House in Troy on Friday night. Quinnipiac's young defense will have to contain the nation's leading goal scorer, Ryan Haggerty. The junior from Stamford, Conn. has 15 goals in 13 games on the season. Brock Higgs, a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award, has nine goals. The two combined account for nearly half of Rensselaer's 52 goals on the season.
Quinnipiac's stout offensive attack will be going up against backup goaltender Scott Diebold, who is replacing last year's ECAC Rookie of the Year Jason Kasdorf who has missed significant time with an injury. RPI has scored four shorthanded goals, including two by defenseman Guy Leboeuf. Forward Mike Zalewski is a physical presence who grinds on the penalty kill and in the dirty areas.
First place, potentially, could be on the line Saturday night at Messa Rink at the Achille Center in Schenectady. Union is three points in back of QU right now, but has played one less game. The Dutchmen bring a five-game winning streak into the weekend and have won seven of eight overall. Rick Bennett's team is playing good hockey, but will have a game against Princeton Friday before being able to focus on Quinnipiac.
Colin Stevens has been somewhat inconsistent for Union in his first season as the full-time starter, replacing Troy Grosenick who signed with the San Jose Sharks over the summer. He was yanked from last Sunday's 5-4 dramatic win over Penn State.
Junior forward Daniel Ciampini has three goals over the last four games, including his tally with just three seconds left to beat the Nittany Lions at State College. Senior Daniel Carr, the school's all-time leader in goal scoring, is tied with Ciampino for team lead in goals this season with seven. Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, a Philadelphia Flyers prospect, leads the team in scoring with six goals and nine assists. Gostisbehere had a remarkable 17 shots on goal during the two-game series sweep of PSU last weekend. RPI coach Seth Appert called him the best player in college hockey after their series earlier in the season.
Quinnipiac will bring one of the best lines in all of college hockey to the Capital District. Seniors Kellen and Connor Jones and freshman Sam Anas have combined for 26 goals on the season. The Jones brothers both surpassed the 100 point total for their careers earlier in the season. Anas, a highly touted freshman out of Potomac, Md., has 12 goals and 12 assists for 24 points to lead all three statistical categories among NCAA rookies. Anas, who played on a line with BC freshman Austin Cangelosi for the Youngstown Phantoms (USHL) last season, was named the ECAC Rookie of the Month for November.
Michael Garteig might not be Hobey Baker finalist Eric Hartzell, but he is a capable replacement. The sophomore was named the ECAC Goaltender of the Month for November.
Quinnipiac bounced back from a shocking upset loss at the hands of Princeton to pick up a win and tie last week. The Bobcats outshot Providence, 48-22, but had to settle for a 3-3 draw, mainly because of the heroics of Friars goaltender Jon Gillies. A few nights later Rand Pecknold's team trounced UMass, 6-1.
Will the Bobcats continue their roll towards a second consecutive ECAC Regular Season Championship or will they get tripped up at RPI and Union?
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Jeff Cox covers college and junior hockey, NCAA recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.