The men’s hockey team clinched this weekend the ECAC regular season championship for only the second time in the conference’s 47-year history.
The No. 11 Bulldogs (20-7-2, 15-5-2) clinched the Cleary Cup on Friday with a 4-2 victory over No. 10 Cornell at Ingalls Rink. Yale was lucky to clinch when it did, because the Colgate Red Raiders stunned the Elis 3-2 in overtime in the final regular season game of the year on Sunday afternoon in New Haven.
“It’s real special because over the years, Yale had a bad reputation of being bottom of the league, being a gutter team,” center Mark Arcobello ’10 said after the team had secured the championship. “To turn it around in three years, not just to improve and get better, but to get so much better that we’re winning the championship, it’s just unbelievable.”
The Elis were predicted to finish seventh in the pre-season ECAC rankings, but a 10-game unbeaten streak during January and February propelled Yale to the top of conference standings.
After Princeton blanked Yale at Baker Rink last Saturday to break the unbeaten streak, the Elis got their offense back in the friendly confines of Ingalls.
Left winger Brian O’Neill ’12 had two goals and an assist for the Bulldogs, while Arcobello added a goal and four assists on the weekend.
In front of the fifth straight sell-out crowd at Ingalls Rink, the Bulldogs prevailed Friday in a thriller that pitted two of the top teams in the ECAC against each other.
Yet it did not look like there would be any late-game excitement after the first two periods of play.
Yale had a three-goal lead heading into the final frame, but goals from Colin Greening and Evan Barlow meant the Bulldogs had to fend off a late-game charge from the Big Red (18-7-4, 13-6-3). But an O’Neill rebound goal with 45 seconds left in the game iced the victory for the home team, meaning that the Elis could officially secure the ECAC regular season championship with a Princeton loss.
Yale officially clinched the Cleary Cup about 30 minutes after the final buzzer sounded when second-place Princeton’s 2-0 loss at Dartmouth was finalized. Moments later, ECAC Hockey Commissioner Steve Hagwell presented the trophy to Bulldog players and coaches in an impromptu ceremony in Yale’s locker room.
Donning special pink and blue uniforms for the Pink at the Rink fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, the Bulldogs had broken the deadlock midway through the period thanks to a heads-up play from Arcobello on the short-handed situation.
The junior forward blocked a slap shot from the high slot and flipped a lead pass to streaking linemate Sean Backman ’10. Cornell goaltender Ben Scrivens got to the puck first, but his attempted clearance went straight at Backman. With the Big Red netminder out of position, Backman hesitated for just a second before sliding the puck between a Cornell defender and into the empty net for Yale’s seventh short-handed goal of the season.
The Elis added two more goals during the second period despite being outshot by the visitors 9-5. On the tail ends of three straight Cornell power plays, the home team scored on two man-up advantages of their own.
O’Neill scored another rebound goal at 8:01, and Arcobello followed things up 10 minutes later off a well-placed feed from left winger Denny Kearney ’11.
Kearney found Arcobello all alone on the weak side with a creative centering pass that swept across the crease. All that remained for Arcobello to do was slide the puck into the open side of the net from a tight angle.
With 58 penalty minutes combined, Yale made the best of their opportunities with both a short-handed goal and two power-play goals.
“When you talk about special teams, there are two sides to the coin,” head coach Keith Allain said. “The kill was great, our defense was great, our goaltending did a great job. And then, when we had the opportunity on the power play, we scored. That can be a bit deflating for the other team.”
The Big Red found themselves down by three goals on the road, but they were in no way out of the game. A string of four straight penalties during the final frame helped Cornell put consistent pressure on Yale, with Greening and Barlow’s goals guaranteeing a dramatic finish.
“We knew we wanted this game,” Backman said after the game. “It was pretty much the biggest game of the year. You just love to play games like this, being a hockey player. The guys couldn’t have been more excited to play a game like this, and we’re just happy we came out on top.”
The Elis had been looking to bounce back from a disappointing pair of games last weekend. After tying rival Quinnipiac on Feb. 20, Yale had a chance to clinch the Cleary Cup with a win at Princeton on the following night, but fell 2-0 in a close one. According to Arcobello, the team used last weekend’s setback to fuel the big game against Cornell.
“I think the intensity went up as of last weekend because we had an opportunity to [clinch the ECAC],” he said. “Just knowing that we had another chance tonight to win it fired us up even more to finally get it.”
Although the Cleary Cup had already been decided, there were still PairWise rankings to play for on Sunday against Colgate.
From the first whistle, it was obvious that the Bulldogs were suffering from a post-Cleary Cup letdown.
The home team looked less convincing during the first two periods, amassing only 11 combined shots. Yale’s best chance came when Arcobello hit the post on a breakaway midway through the second period, but chances were few a far between for both teams.
“We came out flat, and we stayed flat for the first two periods,” Backman said. “You can’t expect to win a hockey game when you only play 20 minutes.”
The pace of the game picked up considerably in the final frame, though, as the two teams traded goals twice.
Center Kevin Limbert’s ’12 shot found the right side of the post a minute into the final frame, as he took a nice centering feed from Kearney to wrist a top-shelver past Colgate netminder Charles Long to break the deadlock.
Yet just as Yale looked to be getting into a rhythm on offense, the visitors tied things up with a goal from Nick St. Pierre at 12:42.
Backman looked to have scored the game-winner at 15:21, but Colgate once again responded with David McIntyre’s 20th goal of the season with less than two minutes remaining, forcing the game into overtime.
Peter Bogdanich stunned the Bulldogs with the game-winner only 79 seconds into the extra frame.
After having clinched a first-round bye, Yale now has two weeks of rest before its second round best-of-three ECAC tournament series on March 13-15.