Keeping Score: Quinnipiac carrying the banner

Published: 4/14/2023 1:09:20 PM

Good morning!
Quinnipiac’s stirring 3-2 overtime win against top-seeded Minnesota on Saturday night flatters UMass which tied the Bobcats 2-2 on Thanksgiving weekend. Quinnipiac’s first national title came two years to the day after UMass beat Minnesota-Duluth, 3-2, in overtime at the Frozen Four semifinal in Pittsburgh.

There is karma between these two programs. When coach Rand Pecknold screamed, “I need a hug!” Ryan Bamford was ready to jump out of the stands like he did for Greg Carvel.

Anyone who’s followed UMass since the days of playing at Orr Rink knows it’s been a slog for the program to get where it is today. When Toot Cahoon left at the end of the 2011-2012 season, College Hockey News reported that Pecknold was “ready to accept” an offer by UMass AD John McCutcheon. Quinnipiac responded with a better offer and Pecknold stayed in Hamden.

Pecknold is to Quinnipiac what Red Auerbach was to the Celtics, or what Frank Boyden was to Deerfield Academy, or even what George Washington was to the U.S. presidency. All three started from scratch and reached the pinnacle of their respective professions.

Quinnipiac hired Pecknold in 1994 for $6,700 a year. The team practiced at 12:30 a.m., and when he asked for an earlier ice time they moved him to 4:30 a.m. Afterward he’d drive to North Haven High School and teach history.

The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay wrote that Saturday’s game will be remembered as one of the greatest sports events of the year. Certainly it was better than the Georgia Bulldogs’ 65-7 blowout against TCU, and UConn’s easy 17-point win against San Diego State.

The Gophers had their lead evaporate when Collin Graf’s 12-foot wrist shot from the left faceoff circle snuck under Justen Close’s pads to tie the game 2-2 with 2:47 remaining. Graf, who had both assists against UMass, had been a prize find for the program. A native of Lincoln, Mass., he transferred to Quinnipiac after Rick Bennett was forced to resign at Union midway through the 2021-22 season.

After the third period ended, the 19,444 fans inside Amalie Arena buckled themselves in for an Easter sunrise. “Hockey overtime is a savage format,” wrote Gay. “You must put a pot of coffee on and prepare for a long night.”

True indeed, just ask Montague’s Brock Hines who was on the air the night UMass beat Notre Dame in five overtimes, 4-3.

ESPN’s Barry Melrose predicted the winning goal would happen quickly and he was right. On the opening faceoff, Bobcats center Jacob Quillan pushed the puck to Graf who passed it to defenseman Zach Metsa who head-manned it to Sam Lipkin who slid it over to Quillan who beat Close.

It took eight seconds, bada bing, bada boom. “It was a set play,” said Quillan. “We’ve practiced it 100 times.”

Pecknold was a guest on WFAN’s morning show with Boomer Esiason and Gregg Giannotti and admitted the “I need a hug!” moment was cringe-worthy.

“I wish I could take that back. I’m gonna take some heat on the golf course from my buddies for that. They’re gonna kill me. I am just going to get torched.”

Pecknold can respond he’s carrying the torch — for Quinnipiac, for the ECAC and for New England college hockey.

Readers React, Pt. 1: An item about the UMass baseball team (4-20 at this writing) garnered this reaction from someone close to the program: “UMASS baseball no longer even gets one-and-a-half scholarships. They took them all away except for a fraction of one scholarship that couldn’t be taken away because it was tied to a dedication donation. We compete every game with our fraction of one scholarship against A10 opponents that use between 7 and 11.7 scholarships (the baseball max).”

Athletic director Ryan Bamford should sit on the bench and watch a game, then maybe he’d be more inclined to help the cause.

Readers React, Pt. 2: AIC coach Eric Lang’s comment to CHN’s Adam Wodon that college hockey has “lost its innocence” drew the ire of this longtime insider: “There’s never been any ‘innocence’ in college sports, at least not for the past 50 years. They preferred the days when coaches and schools held all the power, when they could yank scholarships and treat athletes like cattle.”

The Red Sox are swooning but that’s not stopping the Loyal Lemmings from spending top dollar to go to America’s Most Beloved Ballpark. Reader John Lacey sent a screen shot showing it cost more for a family of four to go to a Red Sox game at Fenway than any other ballpark. Four tickets, four hot dogs, two beers and two sodas and parking comes to $324.37.

Looking for a cheaper venue? Go to Pittsburgh’s PNC Park where the same package costs $125.25.  

UMass sports booster John Kennedy points out that some Minutemen who entered the transfer portal didn’t necessarily go of their own volition. That doesn’t include RJ Luis, who’s reportedly bound for St. John’s where Rick Pitino has plenty of money to offer thanks to billionaire alums like Mike Repole.

There’s something off-putting to say a coach has plenty of money to offer his recruits. Sounds like the bad guys won, doesn’t it?

The Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee wasn’t surprised that Tiger Woods withdrew from the Masters on Sunday morning. “[Augusta National] is the hardest golf course in the world to walk if you’re 25 years old and healthy,” Chamblee told Dan Patrick. “Tiger swung as hard as he could off the 8th tee (Thursday) and his ball speed was 169. Others in his group got the ball up to 182. That spoke to me volumes about the kind of pain he was in.”

Doug Brown and Rick Greene were watching their grandkids play at Eaglebrook this week and reminiscing about when they played for TFHS coach John Zwyna. During the last inning of a close game, Brown was on the mound and catcher Roy Niedbala flashed four fingers for the next pitch.

Puzzled, Brown called his batterymate to the mound and asked, “One’s a fastball, two’s a curve and three’s a changeup. What’s four?”

“A steamer,” said Niedbala.

“What’s a steamer?”

“Everything you’ve got.”

Niedbala, who died in 2016 at age 62, is remembered for his sense of humor and competitiveness. Greene remembered the time a pitch bounced off the plate and hit him in the groin. “He was sprawled out over home plate and screaming, ‘My rocks! My rocks!’ Zwyna’s standing over him and says, ‘Those aren’t rocks, Ron. They’re pebbles.’”

SQUIBBERS: Condolences to the family of John “Cookie” Dlugosz of the Powertown who passed on April 5. As his obituary noted, Dlugosz was a “true native son” and longtime Newt Guilbault League baseball coach. … Alaska Magazine paid tribute to four-time Iditarod winner Lance Mackey who died of cancer last year at age 52. On his last Iditarod, Mackey carried his mother’s ashes with him just as she had carried him when she raced in the Iditarod while she was seven months pregnant. … The aforementioned Rick Bennett is now the coach, GM and director of hockey operations for the Savannah Ghost Pirates, the Vegas Knights’ affiliate in the ECHL. … Quinnipiac’s win was witnessed by the second largest crowd ever to see a Frozen Four final. In 2010, BC shut out Wisconsin, 5-0, in front of 37,592 fans at Ford Field. … Julian Diamond and Alex Siano have been named to coach this year’s senior and junior American Legion baseball teams, according to Post commander Bill Phelps. … Background noise about an unidentified player during Sunday night’s ESPN baseball broadcast: “He’s a lowball hitter, and a highball drinker.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached at


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