When top-seeded Michigan hockey faces No. 2-seed Quinnipiac in the NCAA tournament’s Allentown regional final, there’ll be a face familiar to fans in the state rooting for their foe. The winner of Sunday’s game (6:30 p.m., ESPNU) advances to the Frozen Four, slated for April 7-9 in Boston.
Manon Rhéaume, the first woman to play in a professional hockey game and now serves as an analyst on Bally Sports Detroit’s Red Wings telecasts, will be cheering for the Bobcats to head to Boston; her son, Dylan St. Cyr, is the team’s backup goalie. (St. Cyr’s father, Gerry, played five seasons of pro hockey, including stints in Toledo and Flint.)
The Northville alum transferred to Quinnipiac, which is located in Hamden, Connecticut (just down the road from Yale), this season after four seasons at Notre Dame and a couple years with the U.S. National Development Team in Plymouth. As a senior last season in South Bend, he had a 2.44 GAA and .921 save percentage.
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This season, the Northville alumnus has 11 starts and two relief appearances, posting a 1.11 GAA and .939 save percentage while going 10-1-1 with five shootouts. With such outstanding stats, why hasn’t St. Cyr played more? Blame the Bobcats’ wealth of talent in net: Their starter, Yaniv Perets, is a Hobey Baker Award (college hockey’s version of the Heisman Trophy) finalist — one of three goalies among the 10 players up for the award.
St. Cyr isn’t the only Bobcat with a Michigan tie.
Their captain, Wyatt Bongiovanni, hails from Birmingham. The senior has 33 points in 41 games this season, including an assist on Quinnipiac’s fourth goal in the Bobcats’ 5-4 win over St. Cloud State on Friday night. His 15 goals are the most on the roster; it’s also the third time in four seasons at Quinnipiac he has scored at least 14 goals. His lone season with fewer was 2020-21, when he only played nine games; he still scored five times.
Despite Bongiovanni’s offensive skills, he was focused on defense coming into the tournament:
“We don’t like to give teams a lot and we like to possess the puck,” Bongiovanni said Thursday. “I think we generate a lot of good chances through puck possession and through our shutdown defense.”
His ties to Ann Arbor also run blood-deep: according to the school, his brother played club hockey at Michigan.
A ‘stud’ in net
Between the Bobcats’ defensive identity and Perets’ talent in net, the Wolverines may have a tough time scoring Sunday night.
Perets dominated the Eastern College Athletic Conference this season, finishing the regular season No. 1 in the nation in goals-against average (0.96) and shutouts (11) and No. 2 in save percentage.
“It’s undeniable, he’s a stud back there and he treats everyday as a professional,” Bongiovanni said Thursday. “I think credit to his habits, his work ethic, he treats it as a pro. It’s no coincidence he’s been so strong this year.”
He also held opponents to two goals or fewer in 22 of his first 26 starts. His past four, though, have been less successful, with at least three goals allowed in four of them. That includes the four he allowed on Friday night. It was the first time Quinnipiac has allowed more than three goals all season.
Coach Rand Pecknold placed the blame for that performance, in which Perets stopped 30 of the 34 shots he faced, on the Bobcats’ defense, which sagged in the second period, allowing 17 St. Cloud State shots.
“I thought we hung (him) out to dry a lot on a couple ones early on, which is uncharacteristic of us,” Pecknold said. “We didn’t defend well in front of them on a couple of them. … He battled, he battled. It was a tough game for him and for our team, and we found a way. He knows how to win.”
Grad student defenseman Griffin Mendel expects a return to form for Perets against Michigan.
“It’s always nice having Yaniv in net,” said Mendel, who had a goal and an assist Friday. “He gives us some confidence during those situations but like we’ve been taught year, we just have to cover the back door.”
Wolverines the greatest ever?
The narrative for the top-seeded Wolverines entering the tournament focused on their seven first-round NHL draft picks, including four of the top five in last summer’s draft, and their tourney-opening 5-3 win over American International did little to end that.
Of the four top 2021 picks — Matty Beniers, Luke Hughes, Kent Johnson and Owen Power — only Hughes failed to put up multiple points. (Hughes had one point, an assist on U-M’s first goal.) Meanwhile, Brendan Brisson, who went late in the first round in 2020, led the Wolverines with a goal and two assists.
Small wonder, then, that AIC coach Eric Lang was quick to praise the Wolverines, who scored two quick goals in the first period.
“I think when you fast forward the tape here in five or seven years, when you can see this thing play out, you may be looking at one of the best college hockey teams ever assembled,” Lang said Friday. “It certainly felt like that for the first five or seven minutes as our guys adjusted to the pace of the game.”
Pecknold wasn’t quote as effusive when asked to look ahead to Sunday’s regional final.
“Michigan is impressive with the talent package that they put together,” Pecknold said Friday night. “I think for us, first thing we need to do is we need to play better. We need to play to our identity.”
Still, he came away from Michigan’s early game impressed with the Wolverines’ attack.
“(Hughes) was like a video game out there tonight, he was so good. I was impressed with all their guys.”
He also came away with the beginning of a plan: “I think in the end we’ve got to make them defend. If they’re playing defense, they can’t play offense.”
The good news for Pecknold and the Bobcats: The NCAA changed the tournament schedule this year to allow for a day off between games, as opposed to playing the regional semi and final on back-to-back days in years past. Will it help Quinnipiac pull off the upset?
“I’ll tell you Sunday night,” Pecknold said.
Ryan Ford’s prediction
The team’s performance against a common opponent – Quinnipiac went 1-0-1 against AIC in October with a combined 4-3 score – suggests another easy Michigan win. But Perets can steal a game, and he’ll come close in this one. But the Wolverines have a stud in net of their own in 6-foot-6 Swede Erik Portillo, the Big Ten tourney Most Outstanding Player. The pick: U-M 3, Quinnipiac 1.
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