College hockey: Quinnipiac opens the season against Boston College
HAMDEN -- Chase Priskie, as he's done the past couple of summers, spent a week in Washington working with his future employers.
The Capitals selected Quinnipiac's dynamic defenseman in the sixth round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft and at the conclusion of a five-day June evaluation laid out a blueprint to help round out his game.
That strategy is two-fold. Improvement to Priskie's game hastens his path to the NHL. It could also solidify Quinnipiac's potential to be one of the nation's top defensive teams.
The Bobcats open the season tonight at Boston College (7 p.m., ESPN3) with a surplus of defensive talent. It includes two of the top goaltenders in ECAC Hockey, the influx of two Hockey East transfers at defenseman and Priskie, a junior intent on proving himself as an All-American caliber blue-liner.
In addition to his time at the Capitals NHL Developmental Camp, Priskie dedicated most of his summer to improving his skating ability.
"I think that will help with my defending," Priskie said. "If I want to become an elite defenseman in this league, and in the country, I need to become a shutdown defenseman as well as an offensive catalyst for this team. As long as I can do both, it will help the team."
Priskie has been counted on for offense since his freshman season, when he scored 26 points to help the Bobcats reach the national championship game.
Among his new duties this year is stepping into the penalty-kill role vacated by graduated senior Connor Clifton. He'll also assume a new leadership role. Teammates voted Priskie as team captain, the first junior captain at Quinnipiac since Scott Zurevinski seven years ago.
"He's been assertive and leads by example," Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said. "He deserves to wear the 'C' on his shirt."
Defense will be the key to Quinnipiac's ultimate success.
The Bobcats are coming off a season in which they failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years. They allowed a respectable 2.52 goals per game. But without the usual crop of proven, accomplished scorers, that number may need to be more in line with the 1.98 allowed by the 2016 national runners-up team.
Goaltending makes that figure attainable. After winning the starting job midway through last season, Andrew Shortridge had the best goals-against average and second-best save percentage in ECAC play. Freshman Keith Petruzzelli enters as Quinnipiac's most heralded recruit at any position, a third-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings and USA Hockey's goaltender of the year.
GROUP HUG! Bobcats defeat St. Mary's 3-2! pic.twitter.com/ETr8wIsbM9— QU Men's Ice Hockey (@QU_MIH) October 1, 2017
Pecknold has steadfastly refused to comment on playing time for goaltenders almost from the time he was hired in 1994. But there's little doubt the Bobcats will instill a two-man rotation at the position.
At defenseman, Priskie will be joined by Brandon Fortunato and John Furgele, eligible after sitting out last season per NCAA transfer rules. Fortunato last played at Boston University; Furgele at New Hampshire. They're veterans who'll immediately fill the void left by Clifton and Derek Smith.
Brogan Rafferty, one of the top freshmen defensemen in the league last year, Karlis Cukste, a San Jose draft pick, and Kevin McKernan round out the top six on what could be the league's best defensive corps.
Where Quinnipiac most needs improvement is finishing scoring chances, it's bug-a-boo last winter. Creating offense wasn't the problem. But midway through last season the team's top scorers were defensemen.
Of the top 10 scorers from last year, only two have graduated. Pecknold wants to see more production from his skilled forwards, like Landon Smith, the leading scorer with 29 points, Craig Martin and Bo Pieper, both coming off breakthrough campaigns, Tanner MacMaster and Thomas Aldworth.
"We need our seniors to play well and produce," Pecknold said. "We've got to find the next group after that that's going to contribute. We like some of our freshmen and sophomores, but they've got to step up."
Priskie, one of eight current Bobcats who skated in the Frozen Four, is eager to get Quinnipiac back in the national conversation. A strong showing against Boston College tonight and in the home-opener against Boston University on Sunday would be quite the statement.
"We have a lot of firepower returning, but we also have 10 freshmen, who've all been great," Priskie said. "It's a new complexity and it'll be interesting to see how it plays out. Our goal is to win a national championship. If we can get guys on the same page, we'll put ourselves on the right standard to be successful this season."
This article is written by Chip Malafronte from New Haven Register, Conn. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.