NCAA Frozen Four: Quinnipiac flies past St. Cloud State, will meet Yale for national championship

PITTSBURGH -- Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold had prepared his players for this moment. All week he had spoken to his team about the possibility that the Yale/UMass Lowell game could go into overtime and that their game, scheduled for 8:05 p.m. ET, could get pushed back.

Recknold's preparation paid off as the Quinnipiac/St. Cloud State Frozen Four semifinal didn't begin until 8:46 p.m. ET. Hockey players are creatures of habit, so starting 40 minutes later than expected could have affected the Bobcats, but they came out flying in their 4-1 win over the Huskies, putting them into Saturday's national title game against in-state rival Yale.

St. Cloud State senior forward Drew LeBlanc admitted that his team came out flat. Both teams were affected by the delay, but the Huskies didn't get started quick enough and after 11:19 had passed in the opening period they found themselves trailing 3-0.

"I think we'd do anything to replay the first 10 minutes of the hockey game," said St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko.

It was the Jordan Samuels-Thomas show in the first five minutes of the game. Two wrap-arounds ended with a goal for the 2009 Winnipeg Jets draft pick and an assist, after his attempt led to a loose puck that was pounced on by Ben Arnt.

Sitting on an early 2-0 lead was more than enough for Quinnipiac knowing they had Hobey Baker Award finalist Eric Hartzell (33 saves) in goal. The 23-year old Minnesota native has been the Bobcats' best player all season long and his numbers show it with a 30-6-5 record, 1.53 goals against average and .934 save-percentage.

The senior netminder will have one more game in his collegiate career and it could be a fitting end to a weekend that could see him win the Hobey Baker Award on Friday. That final game will come against Yale, a team Quinnipiac has beaten three times this season. But a much-improved Yale side will serve as their toughest task of the year.

"There's two ways to look at it," said Pecknold. "We're 3-0 against Yale and some people might say that's great for Quinnipiac, and I'll be like it's really tough to beat somebody four times in a row."

Quinnipiac and Yale are separated by 10 miles. They play in the same league, the ECAC. They aren't your traditional college hockey powers. But there will be a title at stake on Saturday night inside CONSOL Energy Center. The atmosphere will be nothing like what the players have played in front of before. There will be electricity in the crowd and on the ice.

"I think we play a really entertaining game when we play them because we're so close," said Samuels-Thomas, who experienced the rivalry for the first time this season after transferring from Bowling Green. "It's definitely real exciting to play them anytime."

If you want to pick which team has the most pressure on them, you'd choose Quinnipiac, only because of their No. 1 seed and because of their success over Yale this season. Pressure or not, Pecknold is confident in his players and one more victory would make a statement.

"We might not have the most talent in the country, but I think we are the best team, and now we need to go prove it."

Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy