Gutman: Third line the key for Yale

No caption.
No caption. Photo by Collin Gutman.

Upon hearing that super-injured superstar forward Sean Backman ’10 would miss the NCAA tournament with a foot injury, I panicked. Other Yale students who have followed this year’s team closely might have reacted similarly. Number 16 is a presence on the ice. Not only does he have blazing speed and a surprisingly physical game, but his quick-release wrist shot and booming slap shot make him Yale’s most dangerous scoring threat (with apologies to Broc Little ’11).

Opposing defenses seemingly key in on Backman every game, shifting their defense in his direction and attempting to crowd him on the power play in an attempt to prevent him from firing a wicked slap shot. No team can lose its most potent forward and be just as good. Yale will undoubtedly field a worse team without Backman.

But that doesn’t mean it’s time to jump off the bandwagon.

What made this Yale team special all season was not Sean Backman, it was the team’s tremendous depth. Most teams have two lines worth of “top six” skill forwards, and “bottom six” forwards who bring more toughness than scoring ability to the third and fourth lines of the team. Yale’s fourth line is constantly in flux, but it always features at least one player who is a scoring threat. Their top six forwards are as good as any top six in the country, though Backman’s loss hurts these lines because Mark Arcobello ’10 and Broc Little will start receiving more attention from opposing defenders, who no longer have to keep Backman in their peripheral vision at all times.

But where Yale really gains its advantage is with its unsung heroes: its third line. Third-line players generally fall into two categories: younger players who are not yet “top six” material but are willing to work hard and throw their body around to help the team or veteran grinders who don’t really score but attempt to play solid defense, throw big checks and wear down the other team’s top line.

The Mason-Anderson tandem, two mainstays of Yale’s third line, is unmatchable in what it brings in terms of both skill and size. Jeff Anderson ’11 is listed at 6 feet 2 inches tall, 205 pounds, and Brendan Mason ’10 is stocky and gritty at 5 feet 11 inches tall, 185 pounds. But they’ve combined for 14 goals and 25 points this season, meaning that North Dakota can’t cheat on offense and throw a defenseman into the attack against this third line. If the Fighting Sioux do, Mason and Anderson have the ability to throw a big body check, swing the momentum, and finish on the other end in one decisive shift.

Some kids on campus are still jumping around and celebrating Mason’s game winner at home against Cornell on Nov. 13.

Questions abound about Yale’s goaltending situation and the ability of their top scorers to produce without their ultra-talented senior, but look for Mason and Anderson’s third line to become an X-factor in the tournament, as their size and skill will be crucial against North Dakota.

Fifteen of North Dakota’s forwards and defensemen are 5 feet 11 inches tall or above. Yale only has 11 players of that height. We know players like Ryan Donald ’10 will be able to handle the Fighting Sioux’s physical style, but it falls on third liners like Anderson and Mason to ensure that Yale’s physical play matches North Dakota’s and find ways to keep North Dakota from wearing down Yale’s smaller skill players, like 5-foot-9-inch, 165 pound forwards Arcobello and Little. Look for them to step up to this challenge.

All is not lost for the Backman-less Bulldogs, but in order for them to keep pace with a North Dakota team that has 17 players on its current roster who have been drafted by NHL teams, they’ll need three things. The usual suspects, such as Little and Arcobello, will have to come up huge for the Yale offense. Billy Blase ’10 will have to sparkle in net. And for Yale to compete with the super-talented, supersized, and soon to be super-well-paid North Dakota roster, they’ll need a couple of underappreciated, under-recruited and under-the-radar grinders to throw their bodies around, set a tempo of toughness and maybe even net a timely goal.

Without their most dangerous weapon, the Bulldogs will need to work for a blue-collar, physical, historic upset of a win. For inspiration they need look no farther than their third line.

Correction: March 24, 2010

An earlier version of this article misidentified the graduation year of Billy Blase ’10.

Correction: March 25, 2010

An earlier version of this article misstated the number of NHL draft picks on North Dakota’s roster. It is 17, not 10.



    The Sioux played 22 games against Top-10 ranked teams this year. This team would have a losing record if they were in the WCHA. Yale students, don’t get too fired up for this game. The bulldogs should have an early exit(again) from the NCAA tournament. Good Luck to #14 and #9, time to play a “REAL” team now boys.

  • Dr.Puck

    The Yale team has many scoring threats, and they all bring something differant to the game. Some are more the playmakers and some are the finishers. Losing any of these players at playoff time especially weakens the impact of the others. Now they must all dig a little deeper and compensate for the loss of depth. By the way, the stats for #14 speak for themselves. Not sure how you could call him less of a scoring threat as he has the skills to create scoring chances for himself and his teammates. When you get that apology to him by the way, be sure to wish him Happy birthday.

  • Really

    Little is a flake. Where was he against Brown? UND’s dmen will easily shut him down – Broc won’t be able to handle WCHA physical play. Without Backamn, sorry to say it, but Yale is done.

  • Dr.Puck

    To By Really: what is your last name? I have a pretty good idea, but I’ll keep from the name calling that you do to make yourself feel good. Just another tough guy behind a keyboard huh? Get back down to your Mothers basement and have another Twinkie.

  • Paul

    UND and Yale share two opponents from 2009-10, Cornell and Wisconsin. The Sioux split a weekend series at Lynah Rink in late January, while the Blue took both meetings with the Big Red. Yale tied Wisconsin in the finale of the Badger Showdown in early January. In early December, the Sioux tied and lost to the Badgers at Grand Forks.
    Yale beat a more phsyical, “bigger” team twice (cornell). The big, bad Sioux only managed to split the series.
    Should be interesting…

  • UND Fighting Sioux

    UND are 12-1 in their last 13 games and they got Matt Frattin back and he’s been scoring a lot since he’s came back. Also the Sioux have played a lot of teams ranked at least 10 seed or less. So Yale doesn’t stand a chance against the Sioux.