After finally pulling together a tournament showcasing Connecticut’s four Division 1 men’s hockey programs in 2020, organizers of the Connecticut Ice tournament had to scrap last year’s games because of the pandemic. But the tournament returns this weekend as Quinnipiac, UConn, Yale and Sacred Heart will compete for bragging rights and the championship trophy at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn.
The four programs are hoping it can become an annual event along the lines of the Beanpot. Unlike the Beanpot, which runs one week apart on the first two Mondays in February, Connecticut Ice is held on consecutive days over one weekend.
UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh spent 18 seasons as an assistant coach on Jerry York’s staff on Boston College, and talked about how a tournament at this juncture can impact a team’s season going forward.
“One thing I always really liked about the Beanpot was the timing of it, and this tournament has very similar timing. It prepares you for what’s coming ahead,” said Cavanaugh. “Sometimes when you didn’t play as well in the Beanpot, you realized ‘Hey, we’ve got to be a little more aggressive if we want to win in the playoffs’. Sometimes you’d win, and you’d say ‘This is the blueprint for success.’”
Quinnipiac (19-2-3) would appear to be the favorite and will face defending champ Sacred Heart (9-11-3) in the first round in a rematch of the championship game of the inaugural tournament.
The Bobcats are the second-ranked team in the country, an overtime loss to Cornell last weekend knocking them out of the top position. They are in first place in the ECAC with a 9-1-1 record in league play, and are drawing comparisons to the 2013 and 2016 squads that reached the Frozen Four.
“That’s the character in our room, just an awesome group of guys. They’re all buying in,” said head coach Rand Pecknold, whose team has posted shutout wins over Harvard and Northeastern. “They do everything the right way and they don’t need someone watching them to do that. These guys are willing to block shots, willing to backcheck hard when they need to. They do all the little things that we need to be successful when you’re tired and that’s been impressive to me so far.”
With Keith Petruzzelli signing an AHL contract with the Maple Leafs after four years in Hamden, Quinnipiac has turned to Yaniv Perets (12-1-2, .950 save percentage) and Dylan St. Cyr (7-1-1, .930) in net this season. Perets is in his first full season with the Bobcats, having enrolled in January, 2021, while St. Cyr transferred from Notre Dame and is the son of Manon Rhéaume, who became the first woman to play in any of the major North American sports leagues when she played goalie for the Tampa Bay Lightning in a preseason game against the St. Louis Blues in 1992.
“They both have had great seasons for us,” said Pecknold. “They both handle the puck very well, so that helps our retrievals and our break outs. Dylan is elite at handling the puck, and Yaniv, I give him credit, he’s really worked at it. He’s been watching Dylan in practice and really improved.
“That is a big difference. Any time you have a goalie handle the puck, it just helps you get out of the zone quicker. But certainly, they’ve both been playing well. I think we’ve been playing well in front of them.”
Oliver Chau, who posted 28 goals and 56 assists in four seasons at UMass, is continuing to produce as a graduate transfer for Quinnipiac. He is second on the team in points with 24 (9 goals, 15 assists).
Marshfield native Neil Shea, a transfer from Northeastern, has five goals and 11 assists for Sacred Heart, which sits in fourth place in the Atlantic Hockey Association.
UConn (11-10) will face Yale (5-10-1) in the other first round matchup. The Huskies have won two in a row, halting New Hampshire’s five-game winning streak with a 3-2 win in overtime last Saturday, the ending Merrimack’s five-game winning streak with another 3-2 win on Tuesday.
Puck drop for UConn-Yale is 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, followed by Quinnipiac-Sacred Heart a 7 p.m.. The consolation game will be at 1 p.m. on Sunday, with the championship to follow at 4:30 p.m. All games will air on SportNet New York (SNY).
Spectators welcomed back
Both Harvard and Northeastern announced that home games will be open to spectators again. All fans 12 and older will be required to provide proof of full vaccination, as well as a photo ID. Masks must be worn by all spectators. Concessions will not be available at Harvard …Northeastern’s game Friday night against UMass Lowell will be the first game of the season where the Huskies’ goalie of record will not be Devon Levi, who was selected to the Canadian National Hockey Team for the 2022 Beijing Olympics. NU will look to either junior transfer Evan Fear or true freshman T.J. Semptimphelter.
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.