Special to quinnipiacbobcats.com by Justin Cait '19
The Quinnipiac men's ice hockey team's 6-0 victory over Colgate on Dec. 29, 2018 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum will be remembered as a two-fold milestone night in the program history books.
Behind the bench, head coach Rand Pecknold
became the 17th
NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey head coach to win 500 games, and just the third active coach to earn the milestone win.
On the ice, senior captain Chase Priskie
recorded his 100th career point, and is now the 40th player – only the fourth defenseman – in program history to join the 100-point club, thanks to an assist on freshman Desi Burgart's
first career goal.
And while the personal accolades were no secret to Pecknold and Priskie, both were more in tune with the final score resulting in Quinnipiac's 15th win of the season. Now, they are focused on what comes next.
"You just want to get it out of the way and move forward," Pecknold told media following the victory.
"The milestones are nice," Priskie said following the game. "But at the end of the day, we still have larger goals as a team to accomplish this season."
Beyond sharing a milestone night with each other, the two have more in common than just the usual hockey-humble attitude towards each other. Both share characteristics that meet at one word: winning.
Unified through dynamic evolution and a similar sense of detail-oriented success, the relationship between the head coach and captain is evidently a fluid one.
"Rand likes to use blind trust a lot, and we just have faith in him," Priskie said. "I think it started my freshman year. When we came in, he really only showed us one way to play, and that was the Quinnipiac way. As I got older, I realized that the stuff we do here puts us in a great position to win."
Priskie's reference to the Quinnipiac way is clear, but the path to that point almost never was, if it weren't for a series of seemingly unlikely events 29 years ago.
Becoming Coach Pecknold
Like many of his peers, Pecknold played college hockey before he swapped his helmet and stick for a fitted hat and whistle.
Pecknold played both forward and defense in his underclassmen years at Connecticut College, but focused on defense when he made the full-time transition to the blue line as a junior and senior. He led the team in goals for a second consecutive season during his junior year, topping that in his final collegiate campaign with 47 points in 26 games.
With his degree in hand and a playing career decisively in the past, Pecknold planned to go to law school in 1990. That all changed when his Connecticut College head coach, and American hockey trailblazer Doug Roberts, made an unanticipated call. He wanted Pecknold to join him on the bench.
"It never crossed my mind to coach. I never even thought of that," Pecknold said. "It was just kind of random how I fell into it. I wanted to do something for a year before I went to law school, so I took the job and I fell in love with it."
Hockey, not law, would be Pecknold's future. As a young assistant on the bench, Roberts served as a mentor for Pecknold rather than a superior, passing on years of experience and hockey knowledge at each meeting, practice and game.
The invaluable experiences gained from his time as an assistant coach at Connecticut College led to both ascension in the ranks and personal growth following each season's completion.
Pecknold decided to become his own bench boss after just his third season with Connecticut College.
Quinnipiac College, as it was known then, was a small but growing private institution that needed a coach for its Division II team. Pecknold ultimately took the job as the fifth head coach in program history for the 1994-95 season, leaving the comfort of a solid Division III program for one held promise, but not much else.
Why Pecknold took the job with Quinnipiac and decided to stay may be a mystery to most. Quinnipiac, known as the Braves at the time, called the Northford Ice Pavilion – a privately-owned rink located just over seven miles away from the Mount Carmel campus – its home, with ice time costs consumed much of the team's budget.
To make ends meet, Pecknold took a second job at Griswold High School in Griswold, Connecticut, as a math teacher and agreed to coach the boys' soccer team.
"In that first year, we were practicing at midnight," Pecknold said. "I had a teaching job 71 miles away. I was living my life in 12 hour increments basically, so at that point it was just survival mode. It was crazy. To say it was a grind would be an understatement…But I stuck with it, and obviously things got better over the years."
Both Pecknold and former university president John Lahey maintained their drives to national prominence. Pecknold focused on recruitment and the overall improvement of hockey operations while Lahey provided the funds.
Quinnipiac joined the Division I ranks in 1998, becoming the Bobcats the following year and qualified for the NCAA Tournament shortly after in 2002. The team joined the ECAC Hockey in 2005, meeting traditional hockey powerhouses Harvard, Yale and Cornell.
Lahey, meanwhile, went forward with plans to build a sports complex, with one arena for hockey and another for basketball. First named the TD Banknorth Sports Center – now the People's United Center – opened in January 2007.
Just six years later, Quinnipiac met Yale in the NCAA National Championship game in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Bobcats' first Frozen Four appearance in program history.
The Bobcats made their second Frozen Four appearance in four seasons in 2016, when they returned to the Division I National Championship game with a team consisting of some of the nation's top players.
Priskie's incline on the ice
That 2015-16 season also happened to be Priskie's first in a Quinnipiac uniform.
But with a high-end defensive corps, Priskie noted uncertainty marked his freshman year.
"I was just worried about staying in the lineup," Priskie said.
Through a summer of hard work in Hamden and early-season success, he solidified that permanent place in the lineup, and even a cracked a spot on the Bobcats' second power-play unit.
Priskie achieved consecutive 26-point seasons in his underclassmen years with the Bobcats, signaling what would be coming down the road.
He also established himself as a well-rounded and dependable defenseman, one who could both patrol the blue line with authority and sustain offensive pressure in the opposition's own zone.
As Priskie's reputation grew within the locker room, he was selected him as the team's sole captain by his coaches and teammates following the 2016-17 season, – the first junior to serve the role in seven years – an honor he still holds as a senior in 2018-19.
While some players may plateau or get comfortable after an eventful start with a new team, Priskie did the opposite. Although his offensive game was noticeably strong from day one, Priskie continued to work on rounding out his gap control, foot speed and overall defensive presence in order to elevate his game to the next level.
"Everything he does is about making himself and his teammates better," associate head coach Joe Dumais
'06 said. "He's a really special player, he's special person, and when you have those qualities to go along with his talent, each year, you see yourself getting better and better."
Along with the 100-point club honors, Priskie holds the Division I program record for goals by a defenseman with 34 tallies and counting. But his satisfaction with providing whatever the team needs in order to win is apparent throughout the locker room.
"I don't think he cares a whole lot about [the accolades] to be honest," associate head coach Bill Riga
said. "He just cares about his game, winning, being the captain of a championship team and leaving his legacy here."
Leading through the Quinnipiac identity
Over the course of their respective Quinnipiac careers, the constant ability to never settle separates Pecknold and Priskie from the pack.
As Pecknold brings in NHL personnel like Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach Jim Hiller or goaltending guru Stephen Valiquette over the summer to hear fresh voices and gain perspective; Priskie maintains close relationships with former Quinnipiac teammates that are at the start of their professional careers, like Devon Toews '17 or Connor Clifton '17, who both made their NHL debuts this season with the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins, respectively.
When Priskie arrives early to a midweek practice to perfect his patented one-timer with a sawed-off stick, Pecknold can be found in his office reviewing video in attempts to know exactly what kind of systems the weekend's opponents will play.
A former player under Pecknold from 2002-2006, Dumais has noticed Pecknold's meticulous ways and his ability to blossom with each season.
"Times have changed and Rand's been great at adapting to the game, to players and the culture," Dumais added. "You see some coaches who are just stuck in the, '25 years ago, this is how we did it. 15 years ago, this is how we did it.' Well, that doesn't always work. Every single year you need to evolve and he does that."
Senior forward Craig Martin
also sees Priskie as a developed player through his four years as well.
"His confidence with the puck is night and day. He used to throw the puck for icings occasionally in his freshman year," Martin said with a chuckle. "But now he is way more confident, and his shot has gotten pretty good. He can rip it."
In only 18 games this season, Priskie leads all defensemen in the nation in goals (12), points (23), power-play goals (7), power-play points (13) and game-winning goals (5), while sustaining a +14 rating and taking just two penalties.
Meanwhile, Pecknold has coached his team to the most wins in the nation (15) up to this point of the season, and carries the second-most wins of any team in the nation over the last six seasons (133).
While Priskie, a 2016 sixth-round draft pick of the Washington Capitals, is slated to make the jump to professional hockey following his collegiate career, there is no rush for Pecknold to take a step into the professional game quite yet.
"I've had some conversations with NHL teams, but I have a great situation here. Quinnipiac is my home. My wife – and I have four kids – we love living in the area," Pecknold said on the Quinnipiac Athletics Podcast
. "I love my job, I love what I do, and the grass isn't always necessarily greener on the other side of the fence."
With 500 wins and counting at Quinnipiac, Pecknold's choice to enter coaching instead of law school seems to have paid off.