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Quinnipiac's title another lesson that great college hockey players come from all NHL draft statuses

The Bobcats had two NHL draft picks in the lineup Saturday night.

2023 Frozen Four Championship - Quinnipiac vs. Minnesota
Quinnipiac celebrates Jacob Quillan's overtime-winning goal in the 2023 NCAA Frozen Four. The Bobcats beat Minnesota 3-2 to win their first national championship.
Jim Rosvold / Special to The Rink Live

GRAND FORKS โ€” Here's the list of NHL first-round picks who have won NCAA national titles in the last six years: Minnesota Duluth forward Riley Tufte.

That's it.

The NHL first-round picks get a lot of attention and understandably so. They're often high-end players in college hockey.

The NCAA's leading scorer and Hobey Baker Award winner this season was Michigan's Adam Fantilli. He will go in the top three of this summer's NHL Draft. The NCAA's No. 2 scorer was Minnesota's Logan Cooley. He went No. 3 overall last year.

But Quinnipiac provided another lesson that great college hockey players come from all sorts of NHL draft statuses and it is possible to build college hockey juggernauts without high-end NHL prospects.

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The Bobcats won their first NCAA national championship Saturday night, beating Minnesota 3-2 in overtime.

Quinnipiac did it with just two NHL draft picks in its lineup โ€” a sixth-round pick and a seventh-round pick. Minnesota had 14 in its lineup, including three first-rounders.

Quinnipiac's win was no fluke.

The Bobcats were a dominant team from the start of the season.

They lost once in their first 22 games. They lost four times all season.

They were No. 1 nationally in team defense, No. 3 in offense. They were top 15 in power play, top five in penalty kill, fewest penalty minutes, fewest shots allowed, shooting percentage and save percentage.

During the regular season, the Bobcats swept Harvard, which had more NHL draft picks than anyone in college hockey. The combined score of those games: 7-1.

In the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals, they beat Michigan and its five first-round picks (six if Gavin Brindley goes this year) 5-2.

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In the championship, the Bobcats outshot Minnesota 30-15, holding the NCAA's No. 1-ranked offense to its lowest shot total of the season and lowest since a November 2021 trip to Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Shots on goal after the second period were 15-2 Quinnipiac.

The Bobcats finished it just 10 seconds into overtime on a goal by Jacob Quillan.

Quillan, who scored twice against Merrimack in the first round and twice against Michigan in the semifinals, was named Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player.

He is undrafted.

The last seven Frozen Four Most Outstanding Players: undrafted, fourth-round pick, undrafted, undrafted, undrafted, undrafted and undrafted. No first-round pick has won the award since Thomas Vanek 20 years ago.

The last top-20 NHL pick to win a national title was UND's Nick Schmaltz in 2016. Schmaltz went No. 20. The last player drafted inside the top 20 to win a national title was Boston College's Chris Kreider. That happened more than a decade ago now.

This is not to say first-round picks prevent teams from winning national titles. After all, Minnesota was three minutes from doing it. No team in the country would pass on the talent of an NHL first-rounder.

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But it does show teams can build dominant college hockey squads without high-end NHL prospects.

The Big Ten has been recruiting more NHL first-round picks than any league. Nine of college hockey's 13 first-round picks this season โ€” if you include Fantilli โ€” played in the Big Ten.

But the Big Ten has yet to win a national title since its formation a decade ago. Its last member school to win one was Michigan State in 2007.

Three ECAC schools โ€” Yale, Union and now Quinnipiac โ€” have won a national title since then with three or fewer NHL picks in their lineups.

Yale was an underdog, but Union and Quinnipiac were both juggernauts.

Transfer portal pickups

Another major factor in Quinnipiac's title was coach Rand Pecknold's use of the NCAA transfer portal.

The Bobcats had four transfers on their roster.

The most notable was Collin Graf, who scored the game-tying goal with 2:47 left in the third period Saturday night.

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Graf, who played at Union last season, finished with 59 points โ€” third in all of college hockey. He led Quinnipiac in goals, assists, points, shots and power-play goals.

Graf continued a trend of transfers playing major roles on title teams.

Every year since the 2020 pandemic, the leading goal-scorer of the NCAA national champion has been a transfer.

In 2022, Denver's leading goal scorer was Cameron Wright from Bowling Green. Wright scored the game-winning goal with less than three minutes to go in Denver's NCAA opening-round win against UMass Lowell. He also scored in both Frozen Four games.

In 2021, UMass's leading goal scorer was Carson Gicewicz from St. Lawrence. The Minutemen reached the title game by beating Minnesota Duluth on an overtime goal by Garrett Wait, a transfer from Minnesota.

In 2018 and 2019 โ€” before players could transfer once without sitting out a season โ€” Minnesota Duluth got in on the game by picking up Peter Krieger from Alaska (Fairbanks). Krieger led all Bulldog forwards in points in 2018 and was a key centerman on the back-to-back title teams.

The last team to win a national title without a single transfer on the roster: UND in 2016.

The last team to win a title without a transfer playing a critical role: Denver in 2017.

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Quinnipiac might not win a lot of recruiting battles for high-end NHL prospects. But in college hockey, you don't necessarily need them.

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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