2013 Frozen Four: Quinnipiac stifles St. Cloud State, will face Yale for NCAA title

By DJ Powers

Eric Hartzell and Kellen Jones - Quinnipiac University

Photo: Quinnipiac University teammates Eric Hartzell (L) and Kellen Jones (R) celebrate Jones' second period goal that gave the Bobcats their 4-1 advantage over St. Cloud State (courtesy of Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI)

Behind a dominating defensive effort and the clutch goaltending of senior Eric Hartzell, Quinnipiac is now one step away from winning their first National Championship in program history after defeating St. Cloud State, 4-1, in the second Frozen Four semi-final game on Thursday night.

Some early defensive lapses by Quinnipiac led to some excellent scoring chances for St. Cloud State, but the Bobcats would tighten things up as the opening period, and game, moved along.

At the 1:42 mark of the opening period, Huskies freshman Joey Benik was sent off for hooking, giving Quinnipiac the first power-play of the game. Just seven seconds into the power play, junior Jordan Samuels-Thomas put the Bobcats on the board first. The West Hartford, CT native netted his team-leading seventh power-play goal of the season with the lone assist going to senior Russell Goodman.

While St. Cloud State generated more scoring opportunities in the early half of the period, Quinnipiac’s defense and Hartzell shut the door on the Huskies.

The Bobcats extended their lead at the 5:07 mark when senior Ben Arnt finished off a beautiful play by Samuels-Thomas, scoring what would eventually become the game-winning goal for Quinnipiac.

Throughout the period, the Quinnipiac defense did a good job of keeping the Huskies’ offensive attack in check and limited the Huskies chances to generate any opportunities in the Bobcats' zone. They also did an excellent job of slowing down St. Cloud State and allowed the Huskies to take few quality shots at Hartzell.

St. Cloud State had an opportunity to get on the board when senior Jeremy Langlois was called for a trip at the 9:08 mark, but the nation’s top-ranked penalty kill was up to the task.

At the 11:19 mark of the first, Quinnipiac stretched their lead to 3-0 on a great heads-up play by senior defenseman Zach Davies. With Langlois’s penalty about to expire, Davies lugged the puck up the ice. And with Langlois now out of the penalty box, it created a two-on-one rush for the Bobcats. Huskies sophomore goaltender Ryan Faragher stopped the initial shot before Langlois banged home the rebound for his 13th goal of the year and 100th career point.

The Huskies came out with more of a sense of urgency to start the second period but continued to have difficulty solving Quinnipiac’s stifling defense.

St. Cloud State finally broke through at the 6:25 mark when the freshman Benik put home a shot into a half open net to get the Huskies on the board. Junior defenseman Kevin Gravel and junior forward Cory Thorson were credited with the assists. It was one of the rare defensive breakdowns that the Bobcats had in the game.

Midway through the second period, Quinnipiac was guilty of some mental lapses and mistakes but was able to stick to their game plan.

At the 14:31 mark, junior Kellen Jones restored the Bobcats’ three-goal lead with a great drive to the net, out-muscling Huskies sophomore defenseman Andrew Prochno in the process. Senior defensemen Zach Tolkinen and Davies notched the assists on Jones’ tally.

For the remainder of the game, Quinnipiac dictated the pace of the game.

The final stanza opened with St. Cloud State on the power-play. Sophomore Matthew Peca was serving the remainder of the interference penalty that he took late in the second period. Once the Bobcats killed off the penalty, they went right back to limiting the Huskies time and space.

One thing that Quinnipiac did especially well in the third period was taking away the middle of the ice. That not only limited St. Cloud State’s ability to generate any offense, but it also took away the speed aspect of the Huskies’ game.

At the 16:05 mark, St. Cloud State would get their chance to cut into Quinnipiac’s lead when senior defenseman Mike Dalhuisen was called for a slash. At the same point, St. Cloud head coach Bob Motzko opted to pull Faragher for the extra attacker. But the Bobcats were once again up to the challenge, with Hartzell stonewalling what few opportunities the Huskies had through the end of the game.

Quinnipiac held on to win the game, earning a date with intrastate and ECAC rival Yale on Saturday night for the National Championship. Saturday's championship tilt will be a rematch of the ECAC Tournament consolation game that took place just two weeks ago, where the Bobcats defeated the Bulldogs, 3-0.

While the win is special to the entire Quinnipiac team, it is especially sweet for assistant coach Reid Cashman, who was a standout Bobcats defenseman from 2003-07. Cashman also spent a year in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2008-09.

“I just feel a lot of pride on two levels,” said Cashman. “One as an alum because I played here, I played for (head coach) Rand (Pecknold) and have seen what the program has gone through. The other is as a coach. I’ve watched what these 28 guys have done all year. They’ve worked hard and deserve this opportunity.”

Saturday night’s championship game marks the first time since 1990 that an ECAC team will be vying for the national title. Both Quinnipiac and Yale will look to become the first ECAC team to win the National Championship since 1989 when Harvard accomplished the feat. It also marks the first time since 1978 that two ECAC teams will be competing for a national championship when then-ECAC and current Hockey East foes Boston College and Boston University faced off. The last time that two current ECAC teams have met for the National Championship was in 1970 when Cornell faced Clarkson.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF