PITTSBURGH — The home rinks for Quinnipiac and Yale lay less than 10 miles apart, linked by a small stretch of Connecticut highway.
It might as well be a chasm.
The two schools who will meet for the NCAA hockey championship on Saturday took very different paths to the brink of history.
Yale is the oldest college hockey program in the country. The Bulldogs hosted their first game in 1896 — more than three decades before Quinnipiac was even founded — and play at 58-year-old Ignalls Rink, dubbed “The Yale Whale.” The players answer questions about how they balance academics and athletics at one of the nation’s most demanding universities and what their non-hockey future holds.
The questions fielded by the Bobcats are different, ranging from how to pronounce the school’s mouthful of a name to if they’d even heard of Quinnipiac before coach Rand Pecknold called offering a chance at finishing the job he started when he took the post 19 years ago. The Bobcats didn’t even join Division I until 1998. But they play in sparkling High Point Solutions Arena, a $52-million palace that served as a shot across the bow to the rest of the teams in the ECAC that Quinnipiac is serious about turning into a national power.
The bruising, explosive Bobcats (30-7-5) are the top seed while Yale (21-12-3) is the scrappy underdog searching to fill a trophy case that’s largely empty — especially for a team that’s been playing since Grover Cleveland was president.
Quinnipiac overwhelmed St. Cloud State early in a 4-1 victory in the semifinals on Thursday while the Bulldogs needed 67 minutes and 47 shots to get past UMass Lowell 3-2 in overtime to advance to its first national title game.
Yet for all their confidence after rolling over Yale in each of the three previous meetings this season by a combined score of 13-3, the Bobcats insist they are taking nothing for granted.