Thousands cheer men’s ice hockey national champions

First-year students Samantha Eisenhaur and Belle Ursini weren’t taking any chances. Even though Monday’s national championship rally didn’t start until 6 p.m., the Troup roommates arrived three hours early.

They were hardly alone. The line of Quinnipiac faithful already curled around the M&T Bank Arena parking lot with equal parts anticipation, excitement and pride.

Two days after the Bobcats beat Minnesota, 3-2, in overtime to win the national championship, more than 3,000 fans came together to celebrate the team’s historic victory. T-shirts, posters, rally towels and team photos were distributed to the crowd to commemorate the event.

President Judy Olian opened the remarks by saying she can’t wait for the national championship banner to hang inside M&T Bank Arena. She was followed by Gov. Ned Lamont who described Quinnipiac as “the best hockey team on planet Earth.” 

The loudest cheers were reserved for Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold and the players, including captain Zach Metsa, game-winning goal scorer Jacob Quillen and goalkeeper Yaniv Perets.

Eisenhaur, who watched the national championship game with her father, said she didn’t blink when Minnesota went up 2-0 in the second period at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida.

“I was getting a little worried, but every time we come to a game, they win,” said Eisenhauer, a nursing major from Rocky Hill, Connecticut. “They’re amazing. I’m totally happy they won.”

Ursini, who watched the game at home with her family, admitted she was nervous, too — but only for a little while.

“I knew they would pull through,” said Ursini, an occupational therapy major from Staten Island, New York. “I’m just so excited. We’re national champions.”

For former Quinnipiac captains Ed Muzyka ’86 and George Sweeney ’88, the victory was more than three decades in the making.

“I watched the game at home. When they won, I collapsed and started crying,” said Sweeney, a defenseman known for hitting hard and playing harder. “My kids said it's the first time they ever saw me cry — and they’re 16.”

Muzyka watched the game at Eli’s on Whitney with other Quinnipiac alumni and fans. It was already loud before it became deafening 10 seconds into overtime when Quillen scored the goal that changed everything.

“Both of our moms are still living,” Muzyka said as he stood next to Sweeney in their old-school Quinnipiac College hockey jerseys. “They were just as excited, if not more excited, than we were because they knew we were the roots of it. They were at every game, so it really became a family affair.”

Rich Buckholz ’87, who holds the program record for single-game goals and points, agreed. Family is never an empty promise when you lace up for Quinnipiac.

“My father was diagnosed with bone cancer in August of 2010, and I was inducted into the [Quinnipiac] Hall of Fame in October of 2010,” Buckholz said. “But he made it to hear my speech and died three weeks later.”

After a brief pause as fans filed past him into the arena, Buckholz said, “You couldn’t have written the script any better.”

The same could be said for Quinnipiac’s national championship victory. It quickly rose to the clouds of legend, the dreams of pond hockey come to life on college hockey’s biggest stage.

For Gabe Wells, a sophomore psychology major from Wallingford, Connecticut, the outcome still hasn’t sunk in — at least not entirely.

“It’s surreal. I’m just happy they were able to get it done,” he said. “They did the work. They deserve the praise.”

Eric Goclowski, a former UConn hockey player, remembers playing against Quinnipiac when Pecknold had just started building the program.

“His love for this university shows you how much the program has grown,” Goclowski said. “As a coach, from when I knew him 25 years ago until now, he’s done an unbelievable job.”

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