Pecknold's road to the Frozen Four began at Dayton Arena

Quinnipiac  coach Rand Pecknold, who has guided the program to its first Frozen Four berth, got his start as a player and later an assistant coach under Doug Roberts at Conn College.
Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold, who has guided the program to its first Frozen Four berth, got his start as a player and later an assistant coach under Doug Roberts at Conn College. Bob Child/ AP photo

Doug Roberts remembers the day, and the line, vividly. It was at Rand Pecknold's wedding in New Hampshire. Roberts, the man who gave college hockey's hottest new coach his first whistle, approached Pecknold's dad, Wayne:

"So who gets the credit, you or me?" Roberts said.

Let's leave it here: The late Wayne Pecknold brought Rand into this world and fostered his love of hockey. Roberts was smart enough to recognize a budding savant and turned over many of the Xs and Os in the old days of the Connecticut College hockey program to his former player turned assistant coach.

It was a lifetime ago at Dayton Arena, where the Camels play. But as Pecknold tells his life story frequently in the coming weeks, let the record show that college hockey's version of an American Idol winner was educated in our corner of the world.

Pecknold is the coach at Quinnipiac, a first-timer in the Frozen Four. The Bobcats play St. Cloud State in Pittsburgh on April 11, the biggest sporting event in the history of the school.

And the author is Rand Pecknold, Conn graduate, former assistant coach. The man who began coaching at Quinnipiac while teaching at Griswold High, living in Niantic and making a coaching stipend of $6,700.

"I can't tell you how proud I am of what he's accomplished," Roberts was saying earlier this week from Florida, where he had just finished a round of golf.

Roberts knew of Rand through Wayne Pecknold, a former hockey player and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Mr. Pecknold died of cancer in 2000 but not before, as Roberts said, "giving Rand a good foundation."

Good enough to become a player at Conn.

And maybe one of the most important players in program history.

"He was a son of a gun in practice," Roberts said. "If he thought someone was dogging it, he'd stir the pot. I had my hands full. And I kind of liked it."

Pecknold's new players will love this one:

"He almost started a fight with my son on the bench," Doug Roberts said, alluding to his son, Doug, who played for the Camels. "They were within an inch of taking a swing at each other. I think it was for not passing the puck."

That's Pecknold. The same guy who, long after the games ended as an assistant coach, would stand in the bar at Mr. G's and wonder, with gusto, why hockey wasn't on one of the televisions.

"He was always ready to fight," Roberts said. "One year, a player came up to me and asked if I'd throw Rand off the team. He called him 'disruptive.' I said, 'Nah. He wants to win.' He was kind of a stinker at times, I admit.

"But we were looking for an identity back then," Roberts said. "Conn used to be an all girls' school. We didn't have the tradition of a Trinity or a Middlebury. Rand helped give us a backbone."

And a division title within the Eastern College Athletic Conference, too, in 1989-90.

Roberts knew the drill at Conn: assistant coaches were more of a means to earning a Master's: room, board and stipend if you helped coach. You didn't have to love the sport. Not the case with Pecknold. This was a vocation.

"I'd give him a little more rope because I knew this is what he wanted to do," Roberts said. "You could tell on bus rides. He'd be diagramming plays. He was learning how to be a coach."

Roberts has a National Hockey League pedigree, once a Whaler. But his greatest trick, aside from building the program at Conn, was the discovery, recruitment and the encouragement he gave Rand Pecknold. He found a star.

Rand Pecknold is 46 now and the father of four. Big week in the Pecknold household. The Frozen Four became reality last Sunday before his wife, Nikki, gave birth to Rex Thomas, the couple's fourth child, on Wednesday.

He's the hottest story in college hockey, a sport once all about Boston College, Boston University, North Dakota, Minnesota and a handful of others. Now it's Quinnipiac. And the man who authored it all is an alum of Conn and Mr. G's, a man who owes his old coach only everything.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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