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NCAA East Regional: Fundamentals Key Quinnipiac Run to Frozen Four

Quinnipiac advanced to the Frozen Four with wins over RIT and UMass Lowell at the NCAA East Regional in Albany, NY.
Quinnipiac advanced to the Frozen Four with wins over RIT and UMass Lowell at the NCAA East Regional in Albany, NY.
Matt Dewkett

Albany, NY -- Connor Clifton's end-to-end rush for an assist on Soren Jonzzon's goal Saturday and Sam Anas' ridiculous backhand finish after dangling up the left side Sunday are the highlight reel plays most fans will remember from Quinnipiac's triumph at the NCAA East Regional.

But, the fundamentals executed to perfection are the real reason the Bobcats are advancing to the 2016 Frozen Four in Tampa, the second appearance in school history, the other coming in 2013.

"We're thrilled to be going to the Frozen Four," said Pecknold. "The first time [2013] was pretty special, but you can't take anything away from today. I'm elated. I'm so happy for our guys."

Admittedly, Quinnipiac didn't play its best in an opening round 4-0 victory over RIT. It slept walked through much of the game, but superior talent came through when it counted.

Sunday was an entirely different story. The Bobcats trailed UMass Lowell, 1-0, after 20 minutes, but played well except giving up a power play tally. Over the final two periods, it was utter dominance. Quinnipiac outshot UML, 25-9, over the final 40 minutes, en route to a 4-1 victory.

"We were good tonight, coming off last night where we didn't play as well," said Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold. "That was one of the better games we've played this year."

Possession dominance and outshooting opponents is nothing new to Quinnipiac, having ranked second in shot margin per game throughout the season. On average, Pecknold's squad gets 10 more shots on net than the opposition.

"We outshot them because we hunted pucks well. The boys were hungry. They wanted it," Pecknold explained.

The Bobcats are the No. 1 overall seed, have just three losses on the season, and are the favorite to cut down the nets at the Amalie Arena. However, when discussing the top NHL prospects at the Frozen Four, Quinnipiac players aren't at the forefront.

Quinnipiac's success doesn't come from blue chippers. It comes from speed, puck pursuit and bringing a lunch pale mentality to the ice each and every shift.

"Tonight we talked about getting after it, winning battles, winning races and making sacrifices. We were pretty good for 60 minutes," said Pecknold.

A few in-game adjustments threw UMass Lowell off its game plan and prevented any semblance of sustained pressure from the River Hawks.

"They made several adjustments throughout the game. They were a little heavier on their sticks, they could get pucks out and their layers are obviously tough to penetrate," said UMass Lowell coach Norm Bazin.

Quinnipiac prevented Lowell from cycling the puck and penetrating, especially in the last 40 minutes. The defense did a good job on gap control, got sticks and bodies in shooting and passing lanes. Leading the way was junior Devon Toews, a New York Islanders prospect, who isn't nearly appreciated enough for all he does in all three zones.

"Devon is the best defenseman in our league. I think he should be an All-American. He's been one of our best players, if not our best player, in the second half. He played a ton of minutes both nights. He's a great two-way hockey player. He's really emerged as a leader for us," said Pecknold.

Quinnipiac started with the puck a lot Sunday night, winning the face-off battle, 43-24. It was a microcosm of how the game went as a whole. The Bobcats did the little things that it takes to win in the post-season.

"The guys were really battling and working hard. Face-offs, everything, there was good attention to detail," said Pecknold.

One player who really exemplifies that is junior Tim Clifton, who has also had a breakout season offensively. He was held off the score sheet against UMass Lowell, but his impact was still felt on the game.

"He had a big night. Timmy was awesome. He was one of our better players," Pecknold said of Clifton, who went 17-6 on draws. "It's something we work on a lot. We want to win face-offs. We want our wings and 'D' to creep in there and get involved."

The next roadblock in the way of the school's first ever national championship is Boston College. The Bobcats and Eagles will meet April 7 at 5 p.m. in Tampa for the first time.