HAMDEN — Last year they were predicted to be mediocre. This year they were the favorites. Both years, they had the same result: the Cleary Cup.
A 7–4 comeback win Friday night at Princeton clinched a share of the ECAC regular season title for the No. 5 Bulldogs. Although Yale finished the regular season with a 4–3 loss at Quinnipiac on Saturday, the Elis won the conference outright after Cornell tied RPI, finishing one point behind Yale in the standings.
“It’s pretty special,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said after earning the title. “As a coach you always think you’re going to be successful and you certainly expect to be successful, but when it does happen, you have to sit back and say, ‘Wow.’ ”
The year after winning the ECAC regular season title despite being predicted to finish seventh in the conference, the Elis made good on a No. 1 ranking in the preseason coaches’ poll. Yale is the first team to repeat as regular season champs since Cornell did it in the 2001-’02 and 2002-’03 seasons.
At first, things looked shaky for the Bulldogs. For the fourth consecutive game, the Bulldogs found themselves trailing by a three-goal deficit in the second period Friday. But, as is quickly becoming their fashion, the nation’s highest scoring offense erupted with six unanswered goals to win their seventh game in a row.
Already up 1–0 midway through the first period, Princeton earned a second goal after a Tiger’s deft pass from the side boards hit a lunging Marc Hagel in the slot.
Right winger Sean Backman ’10 quickly got one back on a one-timed power play goal, but Princeton made it 3–1 at the end of the first period.
The Tigers’ three goals past Bulldog goaltender Nick Maricic ’13 came off of just nine shots on goal.
Although Allain has shown a willingness to take out struggling goaltenders during a game this season, he decided to stick with Maricic for the rest of the night.
After finding themselves down 4–1 10 minutes into the second period, Backman got the comeback started with a slap slot goal at 10:28. It was his second of the game and 77th of his career.
Center Mark Arcobello ’10 made it 4–3 after receiving a quick cross-ice pass from left winger Denny Kearney ’11 on the power play.
Then, with less than three minutes left in the second period, left winger Brian O’Neill ’12 evened things, as Backman’s shot ricocheted off of the sophomore’s skate and into the net.
“We’ve come back before, and we knew we could because we just weren’t playing our best hockey,” Backman said in a press release. “We knew we had time to change that and we fed off the momentum. When things start going well for us we feed off it.”
And they didn’t keep it tied for long.
Ten seconds into the third period, right winger Broc Little ’11 deflected Arcobello’s shot into the net for what would turn out to be the game winner. Little now is tied for the nation’s lead in goals with 25.
Right winger Antoine Laganiere ’13 put the game away with two goals coming at 2:00 and 9:14. His second score was highlight-worthy, as he spun around the slot and unleashed what looked to be a no-look backhander into the net.
Yale has won all three meetings against the Tigers this season.
On Saturday, the Elis’ seven-game win streak ended at the hands of their rival Quinnipiac, whose students lined up hours before the game wearing bright yellow “Beat Yale” shirts.
The standing-room only crowd of 4,267 at TD Bank Sports Center willed the Bobcats to pull off the 4–3 upset over their cross-town rivals.
Allain admitted after the game that his team might have been tired after having already clinched the Cleary Cup.
“You try to guard against it,” he said. “We didn’t have that energy that we usually have. I don’t know if it was emotional, physical or a combination of the two. Even though it’s human nature, [that] doesn’t mean we want to accept it.”
The Elis were first on the scoreboard after Little found Kearney in the crease at 10:12, but the Bobcats tied it up in the period’s final minute on a short-handed breakaway.
Kearney’s second goal of the night gave Yale the 2–1 lead 90 seconds into the second period on the power-play, as he deked a defender and hit the shot over the Quinnipiac goaltender’s shoulder.
The left winger was playing with some extra motivation Saturday, as his Olympic gold medal-winning sister Hannah Kearney was cheering him on in the stands. She won the gold for the U.S. two weeks ago in the women’s freestyle mogul competition and flew in from Vancouver on Friday.
“I come to every game if I can,” she said. “If I had to, I’d drive 10 hours to the games.”
But it was hardly a gold-medal finish for the Bulldogs, as they saw their 2–1 lead become a 3–2 deficit by the end of the second period.
Seven minutes into the final period the Bobcats made it 4–2, but when center Brendan Mason ’11 got one back on a one-timer at 15:13, a comeback did not seem out of reach.
Despite having an extra man in the final minute with their goalie pulled, the Bulldogs’ equalizer never came.
The Elis have a two-week break before they face the lowest seeded team to advance past the first round of the ECAC Tournament. The best-of-three series takes place at Ingalls Rink starting March 12.
“We’ll take more days off this week than we do in a normal week,” Allain said.
Yale dropped from sixth to eighth in the USCHO PairWise rankings after the weekend split.
This is the third time in Yale’s history that the Bulldogs have won the ECAC regular season title. Last season, the Elis clinched the title with a win over Cornell at Ingalls Rink. Like this season, the win came in their second-to-last game; it was followed by a loss to 10th-place Colgate.