Connecticut the Dots: Neighboring rivals Yale, Quinnipiac meet for NCAA hockey title
By itself, Saturday's Frozen Four championship game at Consol Energy Center between Quinnipiac and Yale is a huge, important event for players, fans and the institutions. But there is more to it than even that.
Out of 16 teams that began the NCAA Division I Tournament more than two weeks ago, the two that remain compete in the same conference, have met three times already this season and share a patch of southern Connecticut 15 minutes apart — Quinnipiac in Hamden and Yale in New Haven.
Obviously, both clubs have a lot of smart players.
There also is the question of how each program regards the other in rivalry terms. In Quinnipiac's case the answer is clear.
“At the beginning of the year, every year, people say ‘Can you just imagine if you played Yale for the national championship?' '' senior defenseman Mike Dalhuisen said. “The Yale game, at home or at Yale, is always a huge deal. Probably the biggest deal of the year. But now to do this in the national championship is unbelievable.”
Dalhuisen acknowledged that he and his teammates gathered around a TV and cheered when Yale's overtime goal upset Minnesota in the regional semifinals.
“As soon as Yale scored in overtime we all celebrated,” he said. “And then we took a quick second and we were like, ‘Whoa, this is weird. We're celebrating for Yale.' But, you know, it's kind of cool.”
Junior center Connor Jones said Quinnipiac “hates” every opponent. But Yale is a different kind of opponent. “Everything's a little more intense, for sure,” he said. “A lot more intense.”
Since the teams started playing each other in 2006, Quinnipiac is 10-5-2.
As for Yale, no one player, or two, speaks for the entire team. Jesse Root, Yale's junior center from Mt. Lebanon, handled the question by citing the overall competitiveness of the teams' conference, the Eastern College Athletic Conference.
“I mean, anybody in our league, the league's so close,” he said. “We're definitely seeing the strength of the league this weekend and throughout the tournament. So we treat 'em as any other team.”
Asked if he looked at Quinnipiac as a potential opponent down the road during the tournament, Root said, “No, not really.”
Some Yale players see it differently. Sophomore Anthony Day even brought up North Carolina and Duke in basketball as a comparison. But it is a plain fact that Harvard-Yale is one of the most storied rivalries in all sports.
“I guess Yale doesn't really look at this as a rivalry,” said Kevin Bui, a senior left wing for the Bobcats. “Their program has been so established. I would see this as a backyard brawl more than a rivalry. This is just another chapter to the history of Quinnipiac and Yale. What better way to have it than on the grandest stage of all?”
Yale's Kenny Agostino, a junior left wing, struck a note of compromise.
“You could obviously say that Harvard's our biggest rival,” he said, “but there's certainly a tremendous rivalry that's been built over the years (with Quinnipiac), just being cross-town rivals like that.”
Quinnipiac, ranked No. 1 in the country and the top seed in the East region, had three convincing wins over the Bulldogs this season. But Yale already has beaten a pair of No. 1 seeds in the tournament. Another awaits.
“They're a different team,” Jones said. “They're rolling.”