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  • Perseverance prevails in Pecknold’s New England path to the pinnacle

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    Perseverance prevails in Pecknold’s New England path to the pinnacle

    Bob Snow April 9, 2016

    College hockey’s coach of the year Rand Pecknold meets with the media a day before Quinnipiac’s national championship showdown with North Dakota. Photo by Bob Snow, Bruins Daily.

    TAMPA — He grew up in Bedford, NH, went to school at Lawrence Academy in Massachusetts – and built a college program at Quinnipiac University from the lowest rung to a possible first-ever national championship against national powerhouse North Dakota.

    The two swapped No. 1 and No. 2 rank most of the season. Saturday night, only one will claim the top spot.

    With a starting salary of $6,700 back in 1994, Pecknold guided the Bobcats from a Division III program into D-1 in the MAAC League to Atlantic Hockey and now the ECAC over the past 22 years. His team played for all the marbles in 2013 against fellow Nutmeg State and ECAC foe Yale, bowing 4-0.

    While Pecknold may bring that youthful prep-school and polished presence to the media stage, his early days cutting his coaching teeth were anything but. Growing up in Bedford, he took his early playing days to Lawrence Academy, then Connecticut College.

    “I went to Connecticut College because Doug Roberts was the coach and he had played college hockey with my dad at Michigan State,” said Pecknold. “Life is all about connections. I went to Lawrence Academy because a bunch of kids from the Manchester, New Hampshire, area had gone
    there. So some of the things in life, it’s just you gravitate to certain areas because it evolves that way. I never thought I was going to be a coach. [Doug] called me up after I was a year working, and he was like, ‘you want to come back and help out?’ I was like, ‘okay.’

    “I was kind of floundering in life, didn’t know what I wanted to do. Within a week, I’m like this is what I want to do with my life. That’s how I ended [as assistant coach] up at Connecticut College. Did that for three years and got lucky, fell into Quinnipiac when it was a job nobody really wanted but I needed a job.”

    With sixty-seven hundred bucks over 52 weeks in hand, Pecknold’s goals and schedules out of the blocks reads like the intro to an ESPN “30 for 30.”

    “My first goal? Survival, “ he told the Frozen Four media. “We had midnight practices. I taught high school. I had to get up at 6:00 a.m. I would get home. By the time I got to bed, it was 3:00 a.m. Sleep 3:00 to 6:00, go to my job, get home. The teaching job and Quinnipiac was 70 miles apart, if I remember that correctly. Then I would sleep 3:00 to 6:00 p.m., get up, go down, recruit, midnight practice. That first year was tough. I think it was 1-12-1 after 14 games. I was like, ‘what am I doing?’ But I loved it.

    “I knew we’d get better. In year two we brought in 19 freshmen, and we were off and running. My fifth year we went Division I. But that was my main goal, was just survive. Survive that first year. And the second year we moved to 9:30 p.m. at night practices, then my fifth year they finally made me full time.”

    The 47-year-old youthful-looking Pecknold has a new state-of-the-art arena after joining the ECAC in 2005 from Atlantic Hockey – and a possible option to move to Hockey East when Notre Dame goes to the Big Ten in 2017. He reached 400 career wins two seasons ago, making him the 33rd D-1 head coach in NCAA history to reach such a feat. At 446 after Thursday’s 3-2 win over BC in the first semifinal, it’s No. 447 that has his total preoccupation in the biggest game of his career Saturday night.

    North Dakota beat Denver, 4-2, in the second semi that was deadlocked at 2-2 with a minute to go to punch their ticket under first-year coach Brad Berry.

    In a tale of two coaching opposites, no coach has ever won a national title in their first season.

    “We come to win,” junior defenseman Devon Toews said Friday afternoon about Pecknold’s effect. “That’s why we get high-end recruits. He prepares us well for every single game and that’s all we can ask for as players.”

    “Coach has done an unbelievable job for this program,” senior captain Soren Jonzzon commented. “Obviously it came from literally nothing, late night practices, not the salary that Coach hoped to start. But he’s really transformed this program, and he’s a key figure, if not the most key figure at the progress of this program.”

    About 1994, Pecknold reflected: “My plan was, ‘Okay, this may be the worst Division III team in the country. I’ll build it up in two or three years and I’ll move on to something better where I can actually make money and survive.’”

    In 2016, Pecknold’s Bobcats are the No. 1 seed in Tampa. His team survives to play on for the national championship Saturday night against a program with seven titles.

    “That wasn’t even close to my thought process in year one,” he smiled.

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