In Developing Story, a regular feature on collegehockeyinc.com, we highlight current college hockey players who have developed their skills during their careers – either on the ice or off – and in turn made a bigger impact on their team’s success.
Matthew Peca  scored three goals Sunday for Quinnipiac, sending the Bobcats to the Frozen Four and earning him SportsCenter's Top Play honors. Each tally showcased his skills in a different way: a rebound while falling to the ice, a strong move to the front of the goal, and a hard wrist shot after stealing the puck in the neutral zone.
None of the hat trick goals may have been as impressive as his goal Saturday that kept the top-seeded Bobcats alive in their pursuit of a national title. Down 3-1 eight minutes into the third, Pecatook the puck from the left wing corner to the front of the net, scoring short-side over the shoulder of Canisius goaltender Tony Capobianco.
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It was a display of Peca's innate talent, and a product of the seventh-round Tampa Bay draft pick's work on and off the ice in practice and strength training.
Strength breeds confidence
"A big part of it is off the ice," Peca said after that game. "I've had a chance to put on a lot more muscle and be a little stronger on pucks.
"[Adding strength] opens doors for a lot of things," he continued. "Better puck protection, being a little more gritty around the net and things like that. That certainly helps out our line because the twins [Connor and Kellen Jones] are just as physically developed."
Peca is listed at 5-foot-9, 165 pounds, but seems bigger and stronger on the ice, likely because of that willingness to go to the dirty areas. He said that his added strength gives him more confidence - which, with his creativity and hands, makes him particularly dangerous.
"The second goal gave us life," head coach Rand Pecknold said of Peca's goal against Canisius. "It's a big-time goal, guys are fired up. We made it 3-2 and I knew we were going to win. And our bench knew we were going to win."
Peca had an impressive, point-per-game freshman season, but his development has spiked this year. After a slow start that saw him record five points in the first 14 games, he has 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in 23 games since Christmas.
The Petawawa, Ontario, native, who chose Quinnipiac over multiple major junior opportunities, has benefitted not only from the off-ice training but also Quinnipiac's practice style.
Teammates talked about how competitive the Bobcats' practices are - there was nearly a fight in practice the day before the East Regional, according to senior Kevin Bui. Pecknold creates that kind of intensity, not to encourage practice scraps, but to simulate game situations and give his players more confidence in games.
"Our practices have been great all year, and especially good this week," Peca said. "Practices even get chippy later on in the year because emotions are high. I think we do a great job of controlling that emotion come game time, but the competitiveness in our practice and just around our whole team the atmosphere is great."