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TAMPA, Fla. — Forty-two games into the season, Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold continues to remind his team of one thing: If the Bobcats play to their identity — a hard forechecking, gritty team — his club can beat anyone.
And on Thursday, against the high-flying Boston College offense, one of the most storied programs over the last two decades, Quinnipiac used that identity to start fast, grab an early lead and hold on for a 3-2 victory.
2016 Frozen Four
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“We kept focusing on, ‘This is what we’re good at, this is what we do well and this is what we’re going to do Thursday against BC,'” said Pecknold. “We kept hammering and hammering it. We didn’t change anything we’ve done all year.”
What Quinnipiac did best on Thursday was forecheck. The same formula the Bobcats used in the regional final against another Hockey East team, UMass-Lowell, stifled Boston College, particularly early in the game.
“Our forechecking is huge and it’s a big part of the way we start the game,” said Bobcats sophomore forward Landon Smith. “If we succeed in the way we want to forecheck, it creates chaos and tips things in our direction.”
That is exactly how Thursday played out as Quinnipiac was on the Eagles defensemen from the opening faceoff and twice early created turnovers that led to goals.
Kevin McKernan opened the scoring just 2:31 in when fourth-line winger Scott Davidson forced BC’s Ian McCoshen to lose the puck behind the net. A quick center to McKernan led to a short-side shot that beat BC goaltender and Hobey Hat Trick finalist Thatcher Demko (27 saves) for a 1-0 lead.
Less than five minutes later at 7:20, Travis St. Denis and Tanner MacMaster caused the problems in back of the net for BC’s Scott Savage. Again, a quick center to Andrew Taverner was one-timed past Demko to extend the lead to 2-0.
“Both [goals] came off turnovers deep in our zone,” said BC coach Jerry York. “But you’ve got to give credit to Quinnipiac. They forced the turnovers and they scored the goals.”
The 8-7 shot total in favor of Quinnipiac hardly told the story of the Bobcats’ dominance of the opening 20 minutes.
In the second, BC came out with zip and took just 23 seconds to get on the board as Alex Tuch buried the rebound of a Colin White redirection to give the Eagles faithful some hope.
But Quinnipiac had an answer, this time on the power play. Just nine seconds after McCoshen was sent off for cross-checking, Smith banged home a rebound at the right post at 4:32 to regain the two-goal cushion at 3-1.
That goal settled the Bobcats, allowed them to slow the game and quieted the BC faithful portion of the 17,816 in attendance at Amalie Arena.
Boston College had three power plays over the final 24 minutes but couldn’t break through until just 4:16 remained when Ryan Fitzgerald poked a loose puck past Quinnipiac’s Michael Garteig (34 saves).
That created a few tense moments late, most notably when BC’s McCoshen got off not one but two massive blasts from the right point, the final resulting in a memorable glove save by Garteig with three ticks left that pushed the Bobcats to the title game.
“All year long we’ve found ways to win. That’s what we do,” said Pecknold. “We did it tonight. We’re excited to move on.”