Although the men’s hockey team heated up the ice last month, the Bulldogs have run into a February storm.
The Elis (8-14-3, 6-10-2 ECACHL) dropped a hard-fought game at RPI (12-14-4, 6-7-4), 2-1, on Friday before being outperformed by Union (15-11-6, 8-6-4), 5-1, on the next night. Yale has dropped three straight ECAC games, and the team is winless in its last five league contests.
Forward David Meckler ’09 said the Bulldogs might have been overconfident going into two games against teams they beat earlier in the season.
“Our biggest problem this weekend was we did not show up to play,” Meckler said. “We have beaten both those teams, and we felt that just by going through the motions, we would win both games.”
Heading into the weekend, Yale’s faulty defense had spoiled solid scoring outings in the past five league games. But on Friday at RPI, it was a lackluster Eli offense that ruined an impressive performance by goalie Alec Richards ’09. The Bulldogs outshot the Engineers 29-24, but rookie keeper Mathias Lange had his best outing of the year. Most notable was the second frame, in which the Bulldogs controlled possession only to see Lange deny shots that came from point-blank range.
Perhaps a bigger factor in the Elis’ loss was costly penalties. Though the Bulldogs killed five out of seven RPI power-play chances, Yale seemed to commit fouls at the most inopportune times. On the Engineers’ first man advantage of the night, Matt Angers-Goulet banged home a rebound to give RPI a 1-0 lead late in the first period. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Angers-Goulet and the RPI special teams were not done. Just two minutes into the second frame, the Engineers converted their second straight power-play chance when Angers-Goulet sent home a one-timer past Richards.
Penalties also hurt Yale on the offensive side. The Elis looked to convert on a power-play in the third period. But a five-minute major by forward Jean-Francois Boucher ’08 followed by an interference on defender Brennan Turner ’09 turned a one-man advantage into a 3-versus-5 disadvantage. Although Richards stopped two shots to keep the deficit at two, penalties such as these prevented the Elis from sustaining any momentum throughout the game.
The Elis made it interesting late in the game when forward Jeff Hristovski ’06 sent a wrister that ricocheted off Lange into the net with 2:29 left in regulation. Yale was able to get two more shots on goal, but Lange denied the Elis’ comeback bid again.
In the end, the story of the game was Yale’s series of untimely penalties. Forward Joe Zappala ’06 said that while the league referees seem to target the Bulldogs, the blame ultimately falls on the shoulders of the Elis themselves.
“We are a marked team in the league and have been for the past few years on the penalty front,” Zappala said. “Referees are waiting for us to do something questionable, and we are getting called for all of the calls that could go either way. We need to digest that and know we have to … limit our potentially lazy and undisciplined play that will get us a man down.”
On Saturday, the Bulldogs again ran into an opposing goalie on the top of his game, again fired 29 shots on goal, and again were unable to score more than once. Union keeper Kris Mayotte finished with 28 saves, allowing just one goal when Union had already built a three-score lead.
For most of the first period it looked as if Richards was up to the challenge in matching Mayotte save for save. But after stopping his first eight shots in contest, Richards allowed three scores on three shots late in the first period.
Olivier Bouchard began the onslaught when the puck bounced off his skate into the net with 1:37 left on the clock. Brendan Milnamow’s slapshot made it 2-0 50 seconds later, and Scott Brady effectively put the game away when he beat Richards with just two seconds remaining in the first period.
Michael Karwoski ’09 put Yale on the board midway through the third period when he took a feed from Zappala and sent a one-timer past Mayottee to make it 3-1. But just when it seemed like the Bulldogs could mount a comeback, Bouchard slammed the door on the Elis. The junior winger scored two more goals in the third period to complete his second hat trick of the season.
For the second-straight night the Elis simply could not get it done on offense. And while some credit should go to solid goaltending from the other team, Yale head coach Tim Taylor said it is the Elis’ responsibility to execute on scoring chances.
“We need to find ways to score goals,” Taylor said. “There is so much parity in the league that the margin for error is so small, every goal matters. This weekend the offensive chances we did generate just fizzled.”
Three weeks ago the Yale hockey program was on cloud nine. The Elis had used a seven-game league unbeaten streak to overcome a rough start and catapult themselves to fifth in the ECAC standings. But since their 5-0 win over RPI on Jan. 21, the Bulldogs have gone 0-4-1 in league play. Yale’s only win during that span came in a non-conference game against UConn. The Bulldogs have dropped to ninth in the standings and are searching for answers.
Meckler said that in order for the Elis to regain their momentum, they must simply revert to the basics.
“We need to get back to the simple things of the game,” Meckler said. “We need to get pucks in and out, take the body, block shots, and use each other on the ice rather than everyone trying to do it ourselves.”
Taylor said that while Yale has underachieved the past five league games, they are more than ready to make the most of the last four games of the season.
“I don’t think we’re playing badly, but we’re not playing well enough to win,” he said. “I think that is wearing on us a little bit. We know we are capable of good solid play, and we’ve got four games to finish on a high note.”