With key elements still around, Quinnipiac searches for top-four finish

The pieces, including the head coach, are there. Now it’s time to get results.

Quinnipiac returns a strong group of players entering the 2012-13 season and should be in a good position to capture its first top-four spot since joining ECAC Hockey in 2005.

“We have a nice core of returning players,” Bobcats coach Rand Pecknold said. “We need to avoid the injury bug and stay healthy along the way.”

Pecknold returns as well, even as reports surfaced in July that he was close to accepting the head coaching job at Massachusetts.

“It was hectic,” he said of the summer.

“UMass was a phenomenal program. I just felt that Quinnipiac was the right fit,” said Pecknold, who’s entering his 19th season at the school. “My family is settled here. I had two great opportunities and I had to pick one.”

But Pecknold wasn’t the only one potentially on the move this offseason. Quinnipiac’s top line of Matthew Peca and twins Connor and Kellen Jones all return after each averaged a point per game last year.

“I was a little nervous the way the NHL has been pulling players out, but that line will be back,” Pecknold said.

They’ll be joined by center Jeremy Langlois, whose 43 career goals are tops among active league players, and Jordan Samuels-Thomas, a Connecticut native and Bowling Green transfer who sat out last year after leading the Falcons in scoring during each of his two seasons.

“He’s a big guy; he protects the puck down low and is good on the power play,” Pecknold said of the 6-foot-3 Samuels-Thomas. “Hopefully he can round out of the rest of his game. He’s an impact kid; it’s different than adding an 18- or 19-year-old freshman.”

Pecknold said it’s possible Langlois and Samuels-Thomas will be joined by incoming freshman Travis St. Denis, who scored 88 points last season for the Penticton Vees of the BCHL.

Freshman goaltender Michael Garteig, who went 41-4 as St. Denis’ teammate on the Vees last year, should compete with senior Eric Hartzell, who enters the year as Quinnipiac’s all-time leader in goals against average.

The Bobcats return an experienced defensive corps that includes seniors Loren Barron, Zack Currie and Mike Dalhuisen, along with junior Zach Tolkinen. Barron and Currie contributed nine goals each last season.

About the Bobcats

2011-12 overall record: 20-14-6

2011-12 ECAC record: 9-8-5 (fifth)

2012-13 predicted finish (coaches’ poll): Fourth

Key losses: F Scott Zurevinski, F Yuri Bouharevich, G Dan Clarke

Players to watch: F Jeremy Langlois, F Connor Jones, F Kellen Jones, F Matthew Peca, D Loren Barron

Impact rookies: F Travis St. Denis, G Michael Garteig

Why the Bobcats will finish higher than the coaches’ poll: Quinnipiac’s top six forwards emerge as some of the best in the league and a deep defensive group and solid goaltending propel the Bobcats well into the ECAC’s top four.

Why the Bobcats will finish lower than the coaches’ poll:  Injuries. Hartzell falters in net and Garteig is unable to pick up the slack. Quinnipiac has gotten off to hot starts before but never had a first-round bye since coming to the ECAC. Can it hold on this year?