BOSTON — Numerous penalties and the absence of top-point producers proved to be a lethal combination for the men’s hockey team as its season came to a close this weekend.
The Bulldogs (11-17-3, 8-13-1 ECACHL) were eliminated from the ECACHL playoffs by Harvard (14-15-2, 10-10-2) in consecutive games Friday and Saturday night, crushing the Elis’ postseason dreams after an up-and-down 2006-’07 campaign. Although the Elis scored first in both games, the Crimson mounted comebacks both nights to secure 5-2 and 2-1 victories.
“It was tough,” captain Matt Cohen ’07 said. “We definitely could have beaten those guys, but things just didn’t go our way. We worked hard, but they had the momentum going their way, and they took advantage of our mistakes.”
Despite missing leading scorers Sean Backman ’10 and Mark Arcobello ’10 from the lineup Friday night, the Bulldogs took an early lead in the first period with a power play goal. Forward Chris Cahill ’10 fired a shot that bounced off the back of Crimson netminder Justin Tobe’s leg and into the net at 7:26 to get the Elis on the board. Defenseman Rob Page ’08 added a second, unassisted goal after picking off a Harvard clear towards the end of the frame.
But in the second, the Crimson erased the 2-0 deficit with a pair of power play goals by senior captain Dylan Reese. The Bulldogs had several chances to take the lead again, but could not get the puck past Tobe, and so the two teams headed into the final intermission knotted 2-2.
“We came out in the first period and set the tone, but we weren’t able to carry that through the rest of the game,” Cohen said.
Things began to unravel for the Bulldogs in the third period, as they had not yet seen the last of the best power play unit in the conference. At the end of the second, two Elis found themselves in the penalty box for infractions, allowing the Harvard squad — which had originally been down a man as the previous period drew to a close — to take a 4-on-3 advantage. Reese cashed in his third goal of the night at 1:16, putting the Cantabs ahead for the first time in the game, 3-2. As play wore on, the Bulldogs struggled to stay out of the box, allowing the Crimson another power play goal at 5:34. Although the Elis stabilized their penalties after the first seven minutes — in which they had just 51 seconds of 5-on-5 play — the Crimson snuck an even-strength goal past Richards towards the end of the period, cementing their 5-2 victory.
“We didn’t play that poorly on Friday until we started taking a lot of penalties,” forward David Germain ’08 said. “We were focused, but we weren’t as focused as we should have been for playoff hockey until Saturday night.”
And so the Elis took the ice with a different mentality in their second game, prepared to fight for their chance to advance to the conference quarterfinals. Although they were defeated in a narrow 2-1 loss, their play was much more representative of the team than the night before, head coach Keith Allain said.
“We played very hard,” he said. “Either team could have won this game.”
Yet again, the Elis were the first to get on the board in the opening frame. Forward Brad Mills ’07 found the puck in the crease off a feed from Jean-Francois Boucher ’08 and one-timed it past Tobe to put the Bulldogs ahead 1-0 at 12:34. But the Crimson evened things up a few minutes later when forward Jimmy Fraser snagged a rebounded puck and snuck it past goalie Matt Modelski ’07.
Despite outshooting the Cantabs 15-11 in the second stanza, the Bulldogs came out a goal behind after a Crimson tally late in the period. The Cantabs clung to their 2-1 lead in the third as neither team got many quality chances on goal, sending the Elis packing and earning Harvard a berth in the ECACHL quarterfinals next weekend.
Although it ended abruptly, players said that they were pleased with the 2006-’07 campaign, in which they captured an Ivy League championship and improved their record from the last few subpar seasons.
“It was a good season as a whole,” Germain said. “It definitely felt a lot different than our last two seasons. We won the Ivy League championship, and we created a good base which we can hopefully build on going into next year.”
But before the Elis can begin to look forward to the 2007-’08 season, they will take time to look back on the contributions of the six seniors who skated in their final Yale hockey game Saturday. The Class of 2007 combined for 38 points this season and Modelski — who saw his first outing this season just six weeks ago — came up with 110 saves for the Bulldogs, including 22 on Saturday night. On a team that was closer than it had been in previous years, the void left by those seniors will certainly be felt as the younger Elis prepare to mount a new campaign next fall.
“It’s not easy, but at least we can say that we laid it all on the line, and we can have no regrets.” Cohen said. “I think the guys really showed emotion. The younger guys cared about winning and trying to work for the seniors, and that’s a big stepping stone for the program. We haven’t always had that tightness, but we really were together until the buzzer sounded. It meant a lot to the seniors. I think if they can carry that into the next season it will take them a long way.”