HAMDEN -- Friday afternoon, the Cleary Cup, symbol of ECAC supremacy, sat virtually ignored on a mantle at the secretary's desk in the lobby of the Quinnipiac hockey office. That's old news at this university nestled at the base of Sleeping Giant mountain. Around here, there are more important things to think about.
Such as winning the NCAA championship.
And, of course, beating Yale.
Three weeks earlier, the Bobcats, No. 2 with a bullet in the national rankings, went down the road to New Haven and pounded the Bulldogs on their home ice at Ingalls Rink, the 19th positive decision in what would end up being a 21-game unbeaten streak before last weekend's loss to St. Lawrence. During that streak, Quinnipiac clinched its first ECAC regular season title, finally climbed to the top of the NCAA Top 20 poll, replacing Minnesota as the best team in the land and, most importantly, continued to hold down the No. 1 spot in the Parwise rankings that will determine seeding for the 16-team NCAA tournament.
To say that hockey has taken Quinnipiac by storm would be a serious understatement.
When the Bobcats made the move to Division I back in 1999, it was built around making hockey the anchor sport. And based on the 4,074 that stood four to five deep along the concourse, watching the No.1 Bobcats beat Yale 4-1, at the High Point Solutions Arena -- on national TV, no less -- it was a smart decision.
"Our fans, our students, our administration, they're ecstatic. They're in that rarefied air," Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said as his team prepared for its second meeting with Yale. "The excitement, it's off the charts. As players and coaches, we're doing a good job of being grounded and realizing that we've got unfinished business."
That unfinished business is winning the ECAC tournament in Atlantic City, N.J., next month and then, hopefully, finding themselves in Pittsburgh for the NCAA Frozen Four.
"I think going to the Frozen Four and winning the national championship are unbelievably difficult to do, even for the Minnesotas of the world," Pecknold said. "It's not easy. Everybody wants it, it's the pinnacle. Certainly, we have a chance at it. Once you get into the regionals, you have to get a little bit lucky. You have to get the right bounces. Is it the end of the world if we don't go to the Frozen Four? No, we had a great year. Do we want to do it? Yes. Do we have a chance? Sure.
"We have the best record in college hockey. Our strength of schedule is excellent. We're number one in the Parwise. A lot of it is confidence. A lot is character. We keep telling the guys to stay focused and play weekend to weekend."
On Friday night, Quinnipiac improved to 23-4-4 with that win over Yale -- the Bulldogs, meanwhile are in a free-fall, losing five straight -- and with a win tonight over Brown, the Bobcats will be a lock to stay at No. 1 in both the Top 20 poll and the Parwise rankings.
Not bad for a school that's only been a Division I program for just a little over a decade.
"I remember when I was deciding what school to come to, I was weighing all the schools and Quinnipiac was up-and-coming program," said senior winger Jeremy Langlois, who leads the Bobcats in scoring with 11 goals. "Great facilities, the school is awesome and I knew that I could be a player that could help bring the program to the next level. My class (11 seniors) all came here knowing that we could bring the program up by our senior year that would be our year."
And what a year it's been. After a 2-1 loss to AIC on Dec. 6, Quinnipiac went undefeated in its next 21 games (18 wins, three ties). And even sweeter, the Bobcats are now 3-0-1 against Yale in their last four meetings.
"That was an atmosphere I don't think any of us have experienced," sophomore winger Matthew Peca said. "It was an awesome feeling. Almost impossible not to get up for a game like this. I think we did a good job of controlling our emotions. We knew what was at stake. I think we handled it well."
Peca, Kellen Jones and Travis St. Denis scored for Quinnipiac -- all in the first period -- and Connor Jones added an empty netter while goaltender Eric Hartzell stopped 28 shots for his 23rd win of the season.
"It's awesome when we play Yale," Langlois said. "Every single year we play here, it's amazing. Standing-room only, packed five to six deep where people can barely see up there, a sea of yellow, chanting, it gives you a little extra boost out there for sure. It is a very competitive rivalry."
And while beating Yale -- again -- is great, there are more important things to think about.
Such as winning the NCAA championship.