By Winston Hsiao
When the final buzzer sounded in Saturday’s men’s hockey game, rookie goalie Alec Richards ’09 couldn’t help but do a little dance as his teammates mobbed him in front of the net. And while Richards’ celebration may have raised a few eyebrows in the Yale stands, the historical implications of his accomplishment more than justify his reaction — he had just done something that hadn’t been done in nearly six decades.
With the help of an amazing team defensive effort, Richards posted his first career shutout as Yale (7-10-2, 6-6-1 ECACHL) beat RPI, 5-0, in New Haven. The shutout was not only Yale’s first in nearly a year, but was its first one against RPI (11-11-3, 5-4-3) in more than 55 years.
“It’s nice to sign a score sheet with nothing but Yale goals,” Yale head coach Tim Taylor said. “I’m really happy for Alec. This is definitely a feather in his cap, and a feather in the cap for the entire defense.”
Though the history lesson is nice for the Bulldogs, the true significance of the game pertains to the present. Saturday’s win, coupled with a 5-4 victory over Union (11-10-5, 4-5-3) the night before, extends Yale’s league unbeaten streak to seven games and lands the Bulldogs in a three-way tie for fifth place in the ECACHL.
The locker room atmosphere, forward Michael Karwoski ’09 said, could not be more energetic than it has been lately.
“We got the music playing, everyone is feeling great,” Karwoski said. “Now [before the game] we come out in warm-ups feeling good and positive. We have a ton of confidence right now, and we expect to win.”
On Friday, Yale again had trouble holding onto leads, a problem that plagued the Bulldogs in their 3-3 tie against Brown last weekend. But this time, the Elis engineered a third-period comeback and closed the door on Union late in the game.
Trailing, 3-2, at the end of the second period, the Bulldogs outscored the Dutchmen 3-1 in the final frame. Karwoski netted the game winner when he banged a rebound past Kris Mayotte with five minutes left in regulation.
Karwoski’s goal capped an impressive night for the Eli offense. By crowding the net and rebounding the puck, the Bulldogs were able to put up five goals against one of the top goalies in the ECACHL.
Defenseman Matt Cohen ’07 started the trend early in the first period when he trickled a goal past an unprepared Mayotte playing out of his position. Minutes later, a mob of players in front of the Union net allowed Nate Jackson ’06 to send a rebound shot past Mayotte, who was screened by the melee in front of him.
Richards said though the goals may not make the highlight reel, what matters is that the Bulldogs are doing whatever it takes to score.
“We’re working hard in front of the net, getting those garbage goals,” he said. “Whether it’s off of tips or rebounds those are the [types] of scores you gotta score. It can’t always be the fancy ones.”
The Bulldogs continued their scoring ways the next night against RPI. For the second straight night, the Elis capitalized on timely chances to put up five scores on the board. Winger Matt Nelson ’09 put the Bulldogs on the board halfway through the first period with a rising shot past Mathias Lange. Nelson’s score capped off an impressive first period of hockey for the Bulldogs. Though they scored just one goal, the Elis dominated the frame on both ends of the ice.
Taylor said the Bulldogs cannot play much better than they did in the first period.
“The first period was the best period all year, the guys did a magnificent job,” he said. “All four lines contributed on the offensive end. The defensive line was great. [The period] gave us so much team confidence and set the tone for the rest of the game.”
After Joe Zappala ’06 made it 2-0 early in the second period, forward Jeff Hristovski ’06 effectively put the game out of reach with Yale’s first power-play goal of the night. With the wind already out of RPI’s sails, the Bulldogs tacked on two more goals in the third period by forwards Will Engasser ’08 and Brad Mills ’07.
Still, the story of the game was Richards and the defense. After struggling against an average Union offense, many wondered how the Bulldogs would fare against the powerful RPI duo of Will Croxton and Oren Eizenman. But Yale hounded the two stars the whole night, limiting their chances with a complete defensive effort. Unlike Friday, the Bulldogs were able to keep the opposing offense on the perimeter, and when the puck did enter the zone, the Eli defensemen quickly swarmed to clear it with ease.
“[The biggest difference from Friday's game] was that we got the puck out of the zone,” Richards said. “The winger and center came back to help all night, and we always had people in front of the net to stop shots. It was just textbook defense.”
RPI head coach Dan Frigden said the Bulldogs simply outworked his team throughout the game.
“They played much more physical than us,” he said. “They were beating us to loose pucks all night. Whenever we got some momentum going, we had a tough shift where they got us back on our heels, and we could never sustain that momentum.”
With the two wins the Bulldogs find themselves in a three-way tie with Dartmouth and RPI for fifth in the ECAC. Yale has a chance to go over .500 in league play for the first time since January 2004, but must do so on the road against league-leading Colgate and defending conference champion Cornell on consecutive nights.