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How Quinnipiac Became the Top College Hockey Team in America

British Columbia has played a leading role in transforming Quinnipiac University into a Division I powerhouse.
Photo courtesy Quinnipiac Athletics

It's not a strange occurrence for Canadians to play college hockey in the United States. Providence College, last year's NCAA champion, iced a roster with players from Toronto, Montreal and other parts of the country. But Quinnipiac University, the No. 1 ranked team in America and favourite to win the upcoming Frozen Four tournament, does things differently.

There are nine Canadians on the roster, six of whom are from lower and northern British Columbia and played Jr. A hockey in the B.C. Hockey League before enrolling at the university. In total, a whopping 13 players—nearly half the Bobcats roster—made the jump from the BCHL to Quinnipiac.


There are three from Trail, B.C., a small city that sits in the southeastern tip of the province and is a mere 4,400-plus KM from Hamden, Connecticut, and Quinnipiac University. If there's a pipeline that extends between the BCHL and Quinnipiac, it runs east through nearly the entire continent, passing by a number of other top college hockey programs on its path, including Minnesota's No. 2 ranked St. Cloud State, which has only two Canadians on its roster.

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"We've taken more guys out of the BCHL than any other team in Division I," boasts Quinnipiac hockey head coach Rand Pecknold, who has coached the team since 1994. "I don't even think there's a close second.

"There's no question the BCHL is our bread and butter. It's been a phenomenal league for us."

The Bobcats, the Whitelaw Cup champions of ECAC hockey for the first time in team history, enter this weekend's 16-team NCAA tournament with a 29-3-7 record, having lost just one regular season contest since Dec. 12. Pecknold's team featured the best offence in the ECAC with a whopping 3.93 goals scored per game.

Quinnipiac is looking to make more history and capture its first NCAA championship.

When Pecknold took over the team in 1994, however, Quinnipiac was not the dominant college hockey force it is today. The Bobcats were a middling Division II team and remained that way for four seasons until the 1998-99 campaign when Quinnipiac made the leap to Division I and posted a 22-4-2 record in its first season.


The jump to Division I would be notable for any school, but for Pecknold the 1998-99 season was especially remarkable in the roster changes that would ultimately alter the course of the university's hockey program for the next two decades.

"When we went Division I we knew we needed to get into Canada in addition to recruiting American kids," Pecknold tells VICE Sports. So they got to work, bringing in Ryan Olson of the Merritt Centennials and Dan Ennis from the Penticton Panthers, two of the first Quinnipiac recruits from the BCHL.

How Pecknold found these two players and began mining the BCHL for recruits is the very embodiment of university life: equal parts ingenious thinking and being forced to live on the cheap.

"My parents are both from Vancouver," says Pecknold. "Back then I didn't have any full-time assistants so it was a way for me to go visit my family and also look for players. The flight time to B.C. is about the same as getting in the car and driving to Ontario. Our budget was so low back then—I could stay at my uncle's house or my mom's house and we could save money on the trip, too."

So off Pecknold would go, under the guise of visiting his parents but also to load up the Quinnipiac roster with high-end talent. It was a slow grind at first, as Quinnipiac University didn't have the name brand that many of the established, traditional Division I schools did. But Pecknold aimed for the cream of the crop in the BCHL and hoped once he secured some recruits that others in the league would follow. His plan worked.


Rand Pecknold and his staff have found a gold mine of hockey talent in British Columbia.

"We always have high-end kids," he says. "We maybe don't have the depth that some of the established powers do. For us, we need to develop players."

Pecknold has continued making recruiting trips to B.C. but assistant coaches Bill Riga and Reid Cashman now share the load. They really hit pay dirt with Brandon Wong, who started as a freshman at Quinnipiac in 2006 after a BCHL-leading 116-point season. Like wildfire, word began to spread. Wong played with the Bobcats until the 2009-10 season and the following year they welcomed Montrose, B.C.-born identical twins Connor and Kellen Jones, who were fresh off playing for the back-to-back Royal Bank Cup-winning Vernon Vipers. Connor Jones used to marvel at watching Wong as a teenager and was more than happy to follow him to Quinnipiac.

"Going anywhere where you know a lot of people makes you feel more comfortable," says Jones, who now plays for the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers. "Everyone was saying good things so you know you're going to a good program."

Jones and his twin brother were part of a number of British Columbia-bred players on a Quinnipiac team that was really starting to find its stride. In 2012-13, Jones' junior year, the Bobcats lost 4-0 in the NCAA final to Yale University but a firmly-entrenched culture had been established at Quinnipiac: this was now a team led by a core of British Columbia players.

"We really understood each other and that made us closer on and off the ice," says Jones.


"We weren't afraid to call people out," Jones continues, speaking of the team's core. "I don't want to say ruthless, but we told it how it was. If you weren't going to do things the way the core group of guys did then you weren't going to fit in."

Today, many players are more than willing to fall in line. Among them is Travis St. Denis, a Trail, B.C. senior who points to the Jones twins for inspiration in choosing Quinnipiac. St. Denis was part of the 2012 RBC Cup-winning Penticton Vees and was a freshman during the 2013 loss to Yale.

Team captain Soren Jonzzon gets another chance for the top prize in his senior year.

"It was the toughest loss of my career," he says. "To get a chance to go back to the Frozen Four is something myself and the other seniors are looking forward to. We still have a sour taste in our mouths from that loss."

It will be St. Denis' last tournament and a chance for him to leave his mark on the program. He finished second on the team in scoring but is just one of many in a long line of British Columbia-raised players to change the course of this program. Before he leaves Quinnipiac, St. Denis will have done his part as well.

During their most recent round of recruiting, the Bobcats attempted to land 6'1", 205-pound forward and fellow Trail native Scott Davidson, who grew up with St. Denis. Davidson stayed at St. Denis' dorm room when he first came to take a look at the school, and eventually committed to Quinnipiac.

"With the feedback we gave him, I think he made the right decision to come here," says St. Denis.

Together, St. Denis, Davidson and the slew of other players born thousands of kilometres away from Quinnipiac University are just four wins shy from bringing the school its first NCAA hockey championship.

"If we play to our identity," Pecknold says, "we will be rewarded."

It took many cross-continent trips and years of positive word of mouth but coach Pecknold's team has established an identity all their own.

All photos courtesy Quinnipiac Athletics