M. hockey splits and will face RPI again

If the men’s hockey team’s weekend could be summed up in one word, it would be “rebound.”

After dropping games to Harvard and Dartmouth last weekend by large margins, the Bulldogs (13-12-4, 9-9-4 ECAC) responded with a week of hard practice and renewed focus as they prepared to face off against Union (15-12-6, 10-7-5) and Rensselaer (11-21-4, 6-13-3). And even after a narrow 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Dutchmen on Friday night, the Elis kept up their energy, coming back with a big 3-0 win over the Engineers to close out the regular season Saturday night and set the stage for a best-of-three playoff rematch next weekend.

“Overall, the weekend went pretty well,” captain Will Engasser ’08 said. “In our game against Union on Friday night we played well, but unfortunately we did not get the bounces and lost the game. It was great to see how our team rebounded against RPI on Saturday.”

The split ties the Elis at sixth place in the ECAC with rival Quinnipiac, although when the ties are broken for tournament seeding, the Bobcats finish ahead of the Bulldogs. But the seventh seed is enough to secure Yale home ice in the first round and a matchup with the Engineers in the best-of-three series next weekend. It is also the Elis’ highest finish in the ECAC since 2003-’04 and their first regular season with a winning record since 2002-’03.

The weekend started on a disappointing note, though, as the Elis gave up a hard-fought game to the Dutchmen in front of a home crowd at the Whale on Friday night. All scoring took place in a five-minute span in the middle period, but the two teams battled it out for a full 60 minutes — a major improvement over last weekend’s lopsided results against Harvard and Dartmouth.

“We played closer to the way we want to play, not like last weekend,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said.

After a scoreless opening frame, things heated up in the second when an all-sophomore line put the Elis ahead at 8:22. Forward Sean Backman ’10 raced up the ice and sent the puck to Mark Arcobello ’10, who flipped it to Chris Cahill ’10 for the score. But just over a minute later, the Dutchmen got the equalizer on a delayed penalty to stop the Bulldogs from gaining momentum.

Union then charged ahead at 13:28, capitalizing on a power-play opportunity to make it 2-1. Blueliner Michael Beynon held the puck until netminder Billy Blase ’10 went low, launching it over Blase’s shoulder and into the back of the net.

The Dutchmen clung to that lead for the remainder of the second and third periods, thanks to some key saves by goalie Corey Milan. Milan finished with 28 stops and blanked the Elis on an 81-second five-on-three advantage late in the third period.

The Bulldogs bounced back from Friday night’s loss with tenacity Saturday, finishing the regular season in style with a 3-0 shutout of Rensselaer. Netminder Alec Richards ’09 — who has split time between the pipes all season with Blase — shined in his final start of the regular season, stopping all 21 shots that came his way to earn his first shutout of the year.

Although neither team managed to get on the board in the first period, the Bulldogs nearly opened the door for RPI to score early in the second with two costly mistakes at the end of the first frame. When the Elis returned to the ice after the break, they faced 36 seconds of a five-on-three penalty and an additional minute of the second penalty.

But Richards and the Bulldog defense would not allow the Engineers to cash in on the opportunity. The Elis turned the tables not long after, converting their own powerplay chance in the fourth minute of the period. Dignard sent the puck around the boards to forward Broc Little ’11, who skated in and fired a wrister past the Engineer netminder to put the home team ahead 1-0.

Six-foot-four Pat Brosnihan ’09 widened the Elis’ lead to two early in the third, picking up a feed from forward David German ’08 and firing a rising shot past RPI goalie Mathias Lange. The two-goal deficit proved to be too much for the Engineers to overcome, and when they pulled their goalie in the 17th minute to get an extra skater on the power play, the plan backfired and gave Engasser an opportunity for an empty-netter with 24 seconds left on the clock.

“After losing three straight, it was great to have things come together,” Engasser said. “It was senior night, and I felt like all of the guys were charged up and ready to go on our last regular-season game.”

Engasser highlighted the play of both goalies this weekend, as Blase and Richards combined for 36 stops and allowed only two goals, one of the best results of the season. The advantage of two strong goalies should be an asset as the Bulldogs head into the playoffs, where they will face the Engineers in the comfort of the Whale once again next weekend.

“Obviously, we have the momentum now,” Germain said. “It turned out that it was a really big win, [since we will be] playing the same guys next weekend. Hopefully we can carry that over. Right now we feel like we’re in control if we stay focused and don’t get ahead of ourselves.”

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