Coming into this weekend series, the men’s hockey team had high hopes. The final home stand of the season gave the Bulldogs an opportunity to regain momentum before the playoffs. And for the seniors, it offered the chance to skate off Ingalls Rink one more time on a high note.
But as the final buzzer sounded on Saturday’s game against Princeton, the Elis saw their goals go unrealized.
On Friday, the Bulldogs’ (8-18-3, 6-14-2 ECACHL) recent woes hit a whole new low when they were dominated by Quinnipiac (17-16-1, 8-13-1), 6-2. On Saturday, despite putting up a much better effort, Yale stumbled against Princeton (10-16-3, 7-12-3), falling 4-2. With the two losses, the Elis ended the regular season on a six-game losing streak and a nine-game league winless skid.
After the latest setbacks, Yale head coach Tim Taylor said the team needs to look within for answers to the recent slide.
“We haven’t won for a long time,” Taylor said. “We need a momentum shift, and I can’t be a cheerleader for these guys. What more incentive do athletes need?”
After the first ever meeting between Yale and Quinnipiac on Jan. 6, when the Bulldogs eked out an exciting 4-3 win, many were expecting the second contest to be just as entertaining. And the sequel did live up to the billing — for the horde of Quinnipiac fans that effectively turned Friday into a home game for the Bobcats.
Quinnipiac jumped out to a quick 3-0 first period lead over an overwhelmed Bulldogs squad and never looked back. The most consistent performer during Yale’s recent slide — goalie Alec Richards ’09 — broke down, allowing five goals before he was pulled in favor of Josh Gartner ’06 midway through the second period. The veteran Gartner fared much better, stopping 16 of 18 shots in 33 minutes of play.
Despite ample opportunities, the Eli offense suffered from sloppy play all night, mishandling pucks on breakaways and failing to connect with the puck on open slap shots.
By the third period, the Quinnipiac fans seemed to have taken over. Despite goals by forwards Jean-Francois Boucher ’07 and Blair Yaworski ’08 that garnered modest cheers, the Yale side was relatively tamed by the wide margin. As the game wound down, the Bulldogs were visibly frustrated and volatile. The slew of taunts thrown back and forth between the two groups of fans seemed to suggest that the seeds of a new hockey rivalry were already bearing fruit on Friday night.
Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said Friday’s game could lead to bigger games between the two schools in the near future.
“The fans gave us a lot of energy … kids with body paint … it felt like a home game,” Pecknold said. “I think the rivalry is growing. Ten years from now, we’ll look back and say, ‘This is where it started.’”
Saturday night started off on a better foot with Senior Night ceremonies. But by the second period, Princeton had put a major damper on the festivities.
Yale’s offense seemed to show new life, scoring the first goal of the game late in the first period. During four-on-four play, defenseman Bill LeClerc ’07 broke free, handled a pass from Zach Mayer ’06, and sent a wrister past Princeton’s Eric Leroux.
After stopping all 11 shots in the first period, Gartner, making his first start since Feb. 5, could not contain the Tigers any longer. Princeton scored three unanswered goals in the second frame. But to their credit, the Elis did not quit.
Unlike in Friday’s game, the Bulldogs were much more in sync. They put pressure on the Tigers defense all night, consistently setting up solid scoring chances. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Leroux was up to the challenge, totaling 39 saves. After allowing an early third period power-play goal to Yaworski, Leroux stifled Yale the rest of the way.
Princeton head coach Guy Gadowsky said Leroux’s performance did not surprise him one bit.
“Eric had huge saves on the power-play — he came up big when he needed to,” Gadowsky said. “[He gives us] great goaltending every night. We’re so used to seeing him play like this that sometimes we might take him for granted.”
With the losses, the Bulldogs dropped to eleventh in the ECAC, just one place above their last-place finish last year.
But at the end of Saturday’s game, postseason considerations took a backseat to remembering the 10 seniors who had just played their last game at Ingalls. Some Elis took teary-eyed pictures with families, while others simply skated around the ice one more time.
A visibly distraught Joe Zappala ’06 struggled to put the past four years into words.
“I was sitting at the bench by myself, just reliving it all,” Zappala said. “[The best part about these four years] is the guys you meet. The friendships and bonds that form can never break. Ingalls is one of the best places to play in the league, the fans are great, and you take it for granted. But it goes by so fast.”