15 CJHL Alumni on #1 Quinnipiac Roster

When Rand Pecknold took over the hockey program at Quinnipiac University, it was an NCAA Division III institution and the team was known as the Braves, not the Bobcats.
Practices at community rinks were the norm while arenas packed with fans and blue-chip recruits were not necessarily common.
But on Feb. 11, Pecknold’s Hamden, Connecticut-based club earned the No. 1 ranking in NCAA Division I men’s hockey. It’s been a long time coming and Pecknold has relied heavily on Canadian Junior A talent to get there. The Bobcats have 15 CJHL products on their roster and those players helped them to a recent 21-game unbeaten streak, the best run in school history.
“A lot of kids are making sacrifices right now,” says Pecknold on what the recipe for success has been. “That’s a tough thing to get 19- to 21- year-old kids to do (but) all of our top forwards are great shotblockers. When you can get your elite players to do that, it’s infectious.”
Many of those elite players hail from CJHL programs. Pecknold’s parents are Canadian so he’s long been familiar with hockey talent north of the border. The B.C. Hockey League in particular has been a good source for the Bobcats with nine BCHL alums on the roster.
Alternate captains and twins Connor and Kellen Jones are two-time RBC Cup champions from the Vernon Vipers and senior captain Zack Currie is a Cowichan Valley Capitals alumnus. That veteran trio sets the tone for the team.
“The leadership we get from those guys is beyond phenomenal,” says Pecknold, who is in his 19th season with Quinnipiac. “I couldn’t say enough good things about them.”
Former Bobcats defenceman Matt Erhart, currently the head coach of the BCHL’s Surrey Eagles, can’t say enough good things about his time playing at Quinnipiac.
“It was a great experience,” he recalls. “The whole hockey and scholar-athlete experience was first-rate for me. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”
Erhart’s relationship with Pecknold allows both coaches to exchange information on players. Erhart’s star defenceman, Devon Toews, will go to Quinnipiac next season while Pecknold’s scouting report allowed Erhart to bring goaltender Michael Santaguida to Surrey this season.
But Pecknold has had great success in other CJHL leagues too. Matthew Peca, an RBC Cup champion from his time with the Central Canada Hockey League’s Pembroke Lumber Kings and a Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick, has flourished with the Bobcats and relishes being part of the school’s unprecedented hot streak.
“It's been great; Quinnipiac has never been a part of something like that,” says Peca. “It's been great to make history here. So far it's been a great experience and we are looking to keep it going.”
The 19-year-old is second in team scoring with nine goals and 10 assists. He credits CJHL hockey for getting him to where he is now.
“I think playing Junior A hockey molded me into the player I am today,” he says. “That is the same for any player that moves on from Junior A to the NCAA.”
Peca’s success has paved the way for other Ontario players. Twins Jonah and Nathan Renouf of the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Oakville Blades will play for the Bobcats next season. From the Alberta Junior Hockey League, Pecknold has inked Nelson Gadoury of the Camrose Kodiaks, likely for the 2014-15 season.
Since becoming a Division I program, Pecknold has not had a losing season. It’s like a positive feedback loop; wins lead to better recruits which leads to more wins. That success in turn has allowed the team to build facilities second to none.
A state-of-the-art arena, top-notch weight room and locker room are available to athletes. The time put in by the athletes in these facilities has paid off in a big way this season. Their 15-1-2 conference record has them 11 points up on second-place RPI.
“I knew we were going to be really good this year,” says Pecknold. “We had some really nice freshmen coming in; I thought we’d be a top-15 program, maybe top-10. Did I think we’d go three months without losing? No.
“One thing I love is we’re still hungry; (the players) realize we need to keep improving.”
Pecknold has long held that outlook with respect to his program and it’s what keeps him coming back to the CJHL to find that next blue-chip recruit.