So when last summer ended, the brothers purchased a used car from an aunt and made the 44-hour cross-continent drive from their home in Montrose, British Columbia, to Quinnipiac.
They drove 18 hours, caught a few hours of sleep in South Dakota, and then plowed straight through the final 26 hours to Hamden. No speeding tickets; no tailgating. The make and model of the vehicle — a 1998 Ford Crown Victoria — certainly helped in that regard.
“It’s an old cop car,” Connor Jones said. “Whenever we pulled up behind people they’d slam on their brakes and switch lanes. They’d look over and see two twins sitting in the front seat listening to country music.”
There are easier ways to get to Quinnipiac from British Columbia, and vice versa. Terry and Loretta Jones, the twins’ parents, took a red-eye flight late Thursday night to catch the Bobcats’ Senior Weekend games at High Point Solutions Arena against No. 13 Cornell (Friday night at 7) and No. 19 Colgate (Saturday, 7 p.m.). Both games will be televised on NESN.
Still, there can be two or three connections in what amounts to a half-day or more spent traveling. Just ask Quinnipiac assistant coaches Bill Riga and Reid Cashman, who both make the trip several times a year to recruit.
But Quinnipiac hockey’s pipeline to British Columbia, long ago established by head coach Rand Pecknold, has been essential to the program’s construction and ultimate realization as a national power.
“It’s been the backbone of our program,” Pecknold said. “It’s our bread and butter. If players are good in that league, they’re going to be good for us.”
Over the last 15 years, no Division I college team has as much success recruiting Canada’s westernmost province. Last winter, there were nine players from British Columbia on the Bobcats’ roster, a team which dominated ECAC Hockey and came within a game of the national championship. Seven skate for the Bobcats this winter, again the highest B.C. representation in the college game.
Pecknold was hired 20 years ago when the hockey team skated at the Division II level with no scholarships. As the program developed and was elevated, more money was ear-marked for scholarships. It became obvious to Pecknold that he needed to tap into Canadian Junior ‘A’ leagues. Ontario was a relatively easy drive, but there was an army of unclaimed talent in the western provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.
His recruiting budget was microscopic. Yet Pecknold managed to establish a foothold for Quinnipiac in western Canada during the late 1990s. Good fortune helped make it possible. His parents had moved to Bellingham, Wash., an hour’s drive from Vancouver. An uncle resided in Surrey, B.C.
For the price of a round-trip plane ticket, Pecknold could stay with family and spend extensive time scouting the region. All he had to do was persuade players to travel 3,000 miles across the continent and help build a program from scratch at his tiny school with the funny sounding name.
Pecknold proved to be quite a salesman. Many of the program’s top players ever — Brian Herbert, Jamie Holden, Matt Erhart, Ben Nelson, Bryan Leitch, Brandon Wong, Scott Zurevinski — have come from the BCHL. Over the years, Quinnipiac’s reputation spread quickly.
“We tell everyone how great the coaches have been to us,” Connor Jones said. “When coaches ask us what Quinnipiac’s all about, we say it’s a great program with great coaches, unreal fans. With our influence, and other guys who’ve come through, we have so many BCHL guys on our team, it’s hard to not know about Quinnipiac.”
The school’s first Frozen Four team last April featured nine from the BCHL, including team captain Zach Currie and fellow defenseman Zach Davies. The Jones twins, perhaps the two most significant recruits in program history, returned this year, as did play-making sophomore Travis St. Denis and senior Brooks Robinson, both forwards.
Goaltender Michael Garteig, a two-time BCHL goaltender of the year, inherited the starting job and has five shutouts and 21 wins so far. Freshman defensemen Devon Toews and Brayden Sherbinin both see regular ice time.
The well is far from dry. Eight recruits from British Columbia are scheduled to enroll over the next two seasons, including highly regarded forward Landon Smith — currently leading the BCHL in scoring — brothers Bo and Canon Pieper and another set of twins, Jonah and Nathan Renouf.
“Every year there’s more and more guys coming in,” Kellen Jones said. “That’s credit to the coaches. They find great players and they are good at finding diamonds in the rough. The BCHL has become a pretty great league turning out players. That’s good for them, and that’s good for us.”
As for the car? It’s toreador red with bench seating, drives like a dream and intimidates fellow motorists. Needless to say it’s been a colossal hit on campus.
“We might have to sell it at the end of the year, though,” Connor Jones said. “I’m not sure we want to drive it all the way back home.”