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Yale, Quinnipiac provide ECAC defining moments

by Bob Snow /

PITTSBURGH -- If you are a college-hockey fan -- especially of the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference -- and pick lottery numbers, you might include 1-10-23-24-35 among upcoming selections.

It's been one year removed since Union went to the Frozen Four, but 10 since a previous ECAC team reached the Frozen Four (Cornell, 2003); it's been 23 since a team from the league, established in 1961, played for the national championship (Colgate, 1990); it's been 24 years since the last ECAC team won an NCAA title (Harvard, 1989); and it's been 35 years since two ECAC teams met in the final game of the season (Boston College vs. BostonUniversity, 1984, prior to both joining Hockey East).

With just six national championships in ECAC history, a seventh is assured with the Yale Bulldogs meeting their league rival Quinnipiac Bobcats on Saturday in the 2013 NCAA championship game.


Yale, Quinnipiac to meet for NCAA title
The NCAA title game will also decide local bragging rights. Yale and Quinnipiac, a pair of Connecticut schools about 15 minutes apart, will face off for the national championship on Saturday. READ MORE ›

To put that league-championship factor in perspective, Hockey East and Western Collegiate Hockey Association teams have won a combined 13 of the last 14 title games.

Quinnipiac, whose campus is nine miles from Yale, beat their in-state rivals all three times the teams met during the 2012-13 season.

After Yale captain Andrew Miller scored in overtime for a 3-2 win Thursday against UMass-Lowell in one tournament semifinal, ECAC commissioner Steve Hagwell was asked if he ever envisioned an all-ECAC NCAA final.

"No, I never thought of this," Hagwell said. "Can't say I have.We do what we can to put the league in a good light."

The ECAC will be in the bright lights Saturday -- and well beyond -- with a little help from Miller's goal 6:59 into overtime.

"You better put it in. You only get one opportunity like that in games like this," Miller said he told himself about the defining moment forhimself and Yale. "I was able to pounce on one, and we're playing for the national championship."

Miller's goal, plus his assist on the first Bulldogs, goal by freshman Mitch Witek -- his first career goal -- gave him 154 points in 140 career games. Miller now is tied atop the assists leaderboard (113) in Yale history.

Quinnipiac's three goals in the first 11:19 into the second game put St. Cloud State into a hole from which from the Huskies could not climb out.

The Bobcats' Hobey Baker finalist, senior Eric Hartzell, then slammed the lid on any Huskies comeback in what ended as a 4-1 final with 34 saves, living up to the "NHL-ready" moniker given to him by Quinnipiac coach RandPecknold after the team won the East Regional.

They started playing hockey at Yale way back in 1895 and at Quinnipiac just a few decades ago, in 1975-76.

Even more impressive, the Bobcats became a Division I program in 1999, and joined the ECAC in 2005.

"Before we play Saturday night," Yale coach Keith Allain said, "that's probably the biggest goal in the history of Yale hockey. Maybe we don't get the publicity we deserve, but we have great players in our league. We have great universities in our league and we have darn good coaches. I also understand that our league hasn't had much success in this tournament, so maybe things will change after this weekend."

Pecknold has been at the helm since 1994, while Allain has been at Yale since 2006.

"I think it's phenomenal for our league," Pecknold said of the all-ECAC title game. "I think the ECAC was one of the best, if not thebest, league in the country this year. You saw Yale do that [Thursday]. You look why we were number one in the Pairwise [rankings]. It's our success and our league's success. For any team to win the NCAA, you need to win and you need your league to win.

"I think it was one of the [radio] interviews I did, I said the worst team in the league could beat the number one team in the country. I didn't even know who the worst team was at the time. I think it was St. Lawrence at that time and they were tied for last and they had just beaten one of the top teams in the country. We're a great league and I think we're seeing that this year."

The 6-foot-4, undrafted Hartzell contributed mightily to the Quinnipiac and ECAC successes. Come Sunday morning, the highly sought-after NHL free agent will attract big attention. He entered the game with a 1.96 goals-against average in 101 NCAA games, and has all 30 Quinnipiac wins this season,complemented with a sparkling 1.55 GAA.

"They scored three of the first four shots," St. Cloud coach BobMotzko said. "We hunkered back down, but we just couldn't overcome it. And Hartzell was outstanding."

Hartzell's hope entering his college recruiting process was to play at North Dakota. So how did Quinnipiac find its way onto his hockey compass?

"It was really the only choice I had at the time," he told "I was in a stage of my life where I was kind of immature and wanted to get out of juniors. The school was unique and the campus was beautiful. The hockey facility is next to none. I got a call from North Dakota and they said they weren't interested in me anymore. It's a kid's dream to play for one of those big schools, but you know what, this place was for me."

Did he envision a national championship opportunity for his team?

"Not until this year," he said. "You can't see that until youget going. The boys could see this developing."

"I've said for years," Hagwell said. "We've got a great leaguetop to bottom, and with these two teams I couldn't be happier. I can sit back and root for both of them."

"This is definitely good for the ECAC," Miller said. "We have a good league and I don't think a lot of teams understand that."

They do now.

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