It was déjà vu for the 2015-16 Quinnipiac Bobcats in the NCAA championship game on Saturday. It was a rematch of last season’s West Regional semifinal in Fargo against North Dakota. It was another instance of the Bobcats bringing along a hobbled Sam Anas to a do-or-die game.
It was also a familiar result for the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. Quinnipiac was in the same position in 2013 against Yale, and suffered the same fate, including surrendering three third-period goals while trying to fight back from a one-goal deficit.
Losers of a 4-0 decision in their previous title game in Pittsburgh, they would drop a 5-1 score this time in Tampa.
The Bobcats had dominated the puck all season, finishing with a 55.6 percent Corsi For percentage. But against North Dakota, they ran into a team that was plainly better at controlling the puck, as the Fighting Hawks sported a 56.5 percent rating of their own.
That disparity became increasingly apparent in Saturday’s tilt.
Quinnipiac struggled to maintain control of the puck throughout most of the game. When it managed to generate scoring opportunities, it failed to “get good wood” on its shots.
North Dakota closed off the middle of the ice well, and Quinnipiac failed to capitalize on great special teams opportunities. Much credit should go to Fighting Hawks goaltender Cam Johnson, who shut down the Bobcats on a few glorious scoring chances, including some at even strength.
Their accomplishments will feel hollow after their showing in the national championship game, but the Bobcats did earn worthy accolades this season. They earned the Cleary Cup as regular-season champions in ECAC Hockey, losing only one contest in league play — a 4-3 setback to St. Lawrence on Feb. 12.
Quinnipiac also won the program’s first Whitelaw Cup as ECAC tournament champions, dispatching Harvard after the Crimson sent its packing in last season’s ECAC semifinal round.
The Whitelaw Cup victory shed many of the demons that Quinnipiac bore from prior seasons. For three straight seasons, the Bobcats lost in the ECAC semifinal. After losing the 2013 national final, Quinnipiac suffered two straight regional semifinal ousters at the hands of Providence in 2014 and North Dakota in 2015.
The run to this season’s championship game, including the Frozen Four semifinal win over Boston College, garnered Quinnipiac plenty of respect as a legitimate national title contender.
Quinnipiac will still be haunted by the notion that it cannot win “the big game” after its two showings in the national final in 2013 and 2016. It is a spurious moniker, considering all that the Bobcats accomplished to get to those points in both seasons.
The Bobcats will certainly have another shot next season, though it’s tough to imagine it will be as good a chance as they had this season. Per Chip Malafronte of the New Haven Register:
Another rough loss in the title game, but Quinnipiac will get another opportunity here soon. Maybe next season. Loads of talent coming back.
— Chip Malafronte (@ChipMalafronte) April 10, 2016
Despite being hobbled in most of Quinnipiac’s games come tournament time, the team’s offense still revolves around Anas. The rising senior will likely garner interest from professional teams, as will Tim Clifton.
There is also no indication, as of this writing, that NHL prospects Devon Toews (New York Islanders) and Connor Clifton (Arizona Coyotes) will either stay or leave. But if Malafronte’s tweet is any indication, Quinnipiac shouldn’t suffer too much from early departures to the professional ranks.
They will still miss plenty of seniors leaving after this season. The Bobcats will need someone to fill the first-line center role that Travis St. Denis is leaving behind; whoever slots into that spot will have big skates to fill.
Team captain Soren Jonzzon also departs, having provided a solid depth scoring presence for a Quinnipiac team whose offense carried it through most of the season. If Quinnipiac’s recent recruiting classes are any sign of what to expect from next season’s freshmen, the Bobcats probably won’t be losing much in total talent or output.
One major loss, however, is in goal with senior Michael Garteig due for graduation. Incoming junior Sean Lawrence hasn’t shown that he can be the one to step into the crease once Garteig departs; Lawrence has a .870 save percentage to show for his seven games played.
Despite winning one game, those numbers do not inspire much confidence in the crease. Air Force transfer Chris Truehl will be eligible for action this fall, but it is hard to project how he will emerge a year-long hiatus following two years of competition in Atlantic Hockey.
Either way, Quinnpiac’s goaltending will be a question mark heading into next season.
Though nothing official has developed on this front, one other question that the Bobcats will have to handle is the potential move to Hockey East. Quinnipiac should still be contend for the ECAC if it can answer its questions in goal, and any move to a new conference almost certainly won’t take effect in time for next season.
But if anything official develops during the offseason, how the Bobcats’ recruiting is affected and whether they can contend in its new conference will be storylines to follow.