This weekend at High Point Solutions Arena in Hamden, Connecticut brought unrelenting excitement to the world of college hockey.
Top-ranked Quinnipiac squared off against ninth-ranked Cornell in a gritty three-game series to determine who will advance to the ECAC Tournament semifinals. Still riding their top ranking in the USCHO Poll and PairWise Rankings, the Bobcats were heavily favored in this matchup. But it’s always important to remember that the playoffs are a completely different animal. The Bobcats were reminded of this after they dropped the first game of the series 3-2, putting them in a must-win position going into the next game.
Junior Connor Jones opened the scoring for the Bobcats in the first period of Game 1 with a power-play goal, giving Quinnipiac an early 1-0 lead. Cornell freshman Brian Ferlin quickly erased the deficit in the third, scoring a power-play goal himself to tie the game at 1 apiece just 23 seconds into the period. Kellen Jones answered minutes later with a goal set up by Matt Peca and Loren Barron.
Things quickly went south for the Bobcats as Cornell scored once more at the 5:34 mark with a goal from Madison Dias, and another, the game-winner, from Brian Ferlin once again. Quinnipiac put forth a valiant effort in Game 1 but couldn’t squeeze another one past a red-hot (and injured) Andy Iles.
Game 2 was a different story. The Bobcats came out flying from the get-go, potting 2 goals in the first, one from Connor Jones and the other from freshman Travis St. Denis. But in the second the Bobcats put the pedal to the floor, putting together a 7-goal period.
Cornell struggled with a goaltending situation as they pulled Iles for backup Omar Kanji only to restart Iles in the third. St. Denis grabbed his second of the night early, followed by goals from Matthew Peca, Cory Hibbeler, Ben Arnt, Kellen Jones (2), and Jordan Samuels-Thomas. Quinnipiac lead 9-0 after 2 periods, completely demoralizing the Big Red. As if that wasn’t enough, defenseman Zach Tolkinen tallied his first goal of the season and the tenth goal of the game for the Bobcats when he blasted one past Andy Iles at 15:20 of the third.
With a do-or-die sitting before them in Game 3, the Bobcats faced the daunting task of following up such an incredible high after a high-scoring affair. More importantly, they faced the task of proving why they’re the best in the country. Cornell made a statement that they came to play when Braden Birch came flying into the zone and scored just 48 seconds into the game. The Bobcats of the first period looked similar to the team in Game 1; the effort was there but the puck wasn’t finding the net.
Quinnipiac finally answered almost 10 minutes into the second when Zach Tolkinen found twine, blasting one past a screened Andy Iles to tie up the game at 1-1. Unfortunately, this was short lived when none other than Brian Ferlin sniped one past Eric Hartzell just minutes later.
The rest of the game was tight and frustrating. Both teams saw their fair share of chances throughout the course of the third. One thing was for certain; Quinnipiac was slowly running out of time to potentially send this thing to overtime as they watched the chances of their first ECAC title begin to slip from their grasp.
The Bobcats pushed hard until the final minutes of the third period, and this effort paid off when Clay Harvey got one past the Big Red net-minder with only little over a minute to play. The Bank exploded with noise. But everyone in that building knew it wasn’t over just yet. This game was heading to overtime.
The full fifteen-minute intermission gave the players time to get much-needed rest and preparation for arguably one of the biggest hockey periods of their careers. From the puck drop at the start of the first overtime period, Quinnipiac was controlling the pace. The Bobcats made strong defensive plays in front of Hartzell and had fantastic opportunities to end this once and for all, but the team struggled to find the back of the net.
Eighty minutes just wasn’t enough time to settle the score between these two as the game was sent into double overtime. The strategy looked relatively similar for both teams as they entered the second overtime; Cornell dumped the puck into the zone frequently. This approach could partially be due to the fact that they were rolling only 4 defensemen all weekend and were probably running out of gas. But neither team was showing any signs of quitting.
Fourth-line senior Kevin Bui saw a few chances to finish this game toward the end, bringing an energy and grittiness to the ice that was much-needed for this Bobcat team. And then came the golden goal. After a sweet pass from senior Loren Barron, Bui came motoring into the zone.
Bui, with the Cornell d-man beat, put the puck on his backhand a slid one right through the five-hole of Andy Iles. The fans erupted once again as the Bobcats came pouring out onto the ice to celebrate. Equipment was flying, the glass was rattling and Cornell players lie defeated on the ice.
Bui, an unlikely hero, just lifted the team into the ECAC Tournament semifinals.
The Bobcats are going to Atlantic City.
This Friday, Quinnipiac will square off against the Brown Bears at 4:00 in New Jersey. The winner of this matchup will face either Yale or Union in the ECAC Championship.
In a weekend of line brawls, high-scoring affairs and high drama, the Bobcats emerged victorious and lived to see another day.