Men's ice hockey team looks forward to Frozen Four

On the eve of the National Semifinals, the Quinnipiac men's ice hockey have their eyes locked on victory.

They attribute their success this season — which includes a program record tie for most regular-season wins at 28.

This year's squad saw an infusion of new talent — including points leader and Hobey Baker Award finalist Collin Graf — mesh seamlessly with a core of veterans to clinch the program’s third berth in the national semifinals since 2013.

“[The new players] have been awesome,” said Bobcats captain Zach Metsa, a defenseman from Delafield, Wisconsin, who’s seeking a national championship to go with the MBA he’ll earn later this spring. “They’ve been honestly unbelievable. One of our keywords is ‘buy-in.’ And from the moment they stepped on campus they were ready to go. They bought into how we play. The little details that we care about on and off the ice to help us find success. They’re invaluable. Just like every other member of this team.”

Metsa was joined by his coach, Rand Pecknold, and teammates Michael Lombardi, another graduate student, and senior defenseman Jayden Lee. 

“It comes down to being a family,” said Lombardi, the Bobcats’ assistant captain. “At the end of the day, we work harder than anybody in the nation. We’re here all summer, working together. Nobody misses a workout. There’s just a culture here about hard work and having your brothers’ backs. I think that’s what separates us in those tight games. You see other teams, they’re yelling at each other. There’s bad body language. That doesn’t happen on our team."

Added Metsa: “Every night, we show up and we play together. We’re supporting each other. If someone makes a mistake, we’re there to bail them out. There’s layers to how we play. … We always hear that teams are more talented than us or whatnot. But I think as a cohesive unit, I’d put us up there against any other team in the country.”

For his part, Pecknold — who started out as a high school history teacher who was quite literally moonlighting as Quinnipiac’s men’s ice hockey coach when midnight was often the only time slot available for practice at a local rink — spoke about the recruiting parameters that have helped the Bobcats enjoy this level of staying power among the country’s elite hockey schools.

“Culture’s not an easy thing to define,” Pecknold conceded. “I could take an hour and a half trying to explain how we develop it. But probably the most important thing is, you need to recruit high-character kids on the way in. They have to be great kids. Are we perfect? No, we make mistakes from time to time. But for the most part — these three up here, they’re not A-plus, they’re A-plus-plus.”

The second-seeded Bobcats take on No. 3 Michigan at 8:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 and is also available via the network’s streaming service.

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