Three Greater Trail hockey players are leading the Quinnipiac University Bobcats into uncharted territory.
The Bobcats are just two wins away from its first NCAA Div. 1 title, in large part due to Montrose natives Connor and Kellen Jones’ and Trail’s Travis St. Denis’ winning ways.
The trio put exclamation points on their respective Junior-A careers by winning the RBC Cup: the Jones’ twice with the Vernon Vipers in 2009 and 2010, and St. Denis with the Penticton Vees last May.
This season, the three forwards helped lift the Bobcats from perennial also-rans to the number-one ranked team in the nation, winner of the Eastern Conference title, and Quinnipiac’s first ever berth to the Frozen Four.
“The NCAA Div. 1 title would be an incredible accomplishment for us and the team,” said Connor Jones, the top forward in the 2009 RBC Cup. “The RBC experience definitely has helped because it taught us that winning is incredibly hard and the sacrifices you have to give up throughout the year are huge and it really is what separates the winning teams and losing teams.”
The Bobcats out of Hamden, Conn. play St. Cloud Huskies Thursday night in the semifinal match in Pittsburgh, Pa. With a win, the team will advance to the Frozen Four final Saturday against either the University of Massachusettes-Lowell River Hawks or ECAC rival the Yale Bulldogs.
“We had very high expectations of ourselves as a team and I think that has been a big part of the season we have had,” said Jones.
“Our goal at the start of the year was to win a national championship and we are only two wins away.”
The Bobcats’ top line of Matthew Peca and Kellen and Connor Jones has been playing as well as any line in the country of late.
Peca had four goals last weekend in the NCAA East Regional tournament, including a natural hat trick over a span of 3:12 in the first period to lead the Cats to a 5-1 win over Union. Peca leads all scorers while the Jones twins are tied for second in tournament scoring with a goal and three assists each, after putting up identical 12-14-26 point seasons, tied for third among Quinnipiac players.
“Playing with him (Peca) is almost like having a triplet because he does a lot of things we do, works hard every shift and likes to make plays with pace.”
But scoring is not their only asset, it’s what else those top players are willing to do – namely, block shots – that has resonated through the Bobcats’ lineup.
“We always block shots,” Bobcat coach Rand Pecknold said at a US College Hockey press conference. “And when I’ve got Matthew Peca and Connor and Kellen Jones, the high-end guys, dropping to block shots, everybody does it.”
It’s just one of the many small things the Jones’ do well that has translated into success at every level of their hockey careers – including the NCAA.
St. Denis meanwhile was arguably the Vees strongest forward in their stunning run to the RBC Cup last year and kept that intensity rolling with an outstanding freshman campaign for the Cats. The former Trail Smoke Eater scored eight times and assisted on seven in 39 games in his first season while putting up a team-leading 72 minutes in penalties.
“Travis has fit in great in the locker room,” said Connor. “He’s a great hockey player and a great guy and brings energy to the rink every practice and every game. It has been a real special year playing with him.”
If the Q-Cats can pull it off, it will be another feather in an already impressive array for the talented players, particularly for the twins who are in their junior year, and have one year of eligibility remaining.
“The commitment level from this group of guys is amazing and I think the culture has changed in the dressing room – and from this year on, Quinnipiac will be expected to compete in the frozen four,” said Jones.
And with the addition of commits like Craig Martin and Scott Davidson of Trail the Cats future is in good hands.
The puck drops on the Bobcats and St. Cloud game at 8 p.m. Eastern, Thursday.