WORCESTER, Mass. — When Yale head coach Keith Allain ’80 was asked to comment on his goaltenders following his team’s 9–7 loss to No. 3 Boston College in the finals of the NCAA Hockey Northeast Regional on Sunday, his response was expectably nondescript.
“No,” he said.
Allain, a former Yale goaltender, had been notoriously tight-lipped about his decision to go with a goalie-by-committee all season, as four goaltenders, including two freshmen, started at least six games. Three of those netminders, Ryan Rondeau ’11, Billy Blase ’10 and Jeff Malcolm ’13, combined to concede nine goals on 39 shots against BC on Sunday in Worcester, Mass.
Allain’s decision to start Rondeau for the first time since he let in five goals on 19 shots against Brown on Nov. 21, paid off Saturday as the junior netminder made 34 saves in No. 8 Yale’s 3–2 upset win over No. 4 North Dakota.
After the game, Allain said that the goalie who performed the best during the week of practice leading up to the tournament would earn the right to start against the Fighting Sioux.
“The goaltender who deserves to play after these two weeks of practice was going to play,” he said . “It was open season competition and Ryan [Rondeau] won the competition.”
Rondeau rose to meet the high expectations placed on his shoulders in a solid first game effort.
After Yale jumped out to a 3–0 lead after two periods, Rondeau made 18 saves in the third period to stymie the North Dakota comeback. The last 10 minutes of the game were extremely tense as the Sioux pounded away at Rondeau’s net looking for the game-tying goal. But Rondeau batted them all away, preserving the Elis lead and paving the way for a showdown with top-seeded BC the next night.
North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol commended both Rondeau’s performance and Allain’s decision after the Elis’ handed the Fighting Sioux their second loss in 14 games.
“Obviously it was a good call by Keith Allain,” he said. “The young man played well.”
On Sunday night, it would have come as a shock if Rondeau had not been in the net at the beginning of the game based on his performance against the Fighting Sioux.
But 24 hours made a world of a difference for the Yale squad.
Despite an evenly-matched first period, the Eagles went into the intermission with a 2–1 lead thanks to a fluke shorthanded goal from their own blue line off a long clearance that bounced over Rondeau’s left shoulder.
“It was a perfect bounce for them and a terrible bounce for us,” Allain said.
Then the proverbial floodgates opened. Rondeau conceded three more goals on 10 shots on target in just 10 minutes in the second period before being pulled by Allain in favor of Blase.
Blase, who had started the entire ECAC quarterfinals series against Brown, seemed the probable choice to start in net Saturday due to his playoff experience, although Allain started Malcolm and Nick Maricic ’13 in the three final regular-season games.
Blase, who leads the team with a 2.56 goals against average and a .896 save percentage, notched eight saves during his 13-and-a-half minutes in net. The senior made some spectacular saves but he let in a quick goal before allowing the Eagles’ seventh goal just four minutes into the third period. Blase hesitated to make a play on a loose puck in the slot before BC star forward Cam Atkinson capitalized on the breakaway, prompting Allain to make another goalie switch after only two goals.
In the most unlikely turn of events to happen between the pipes this weekend, rookie Malcolm skated on to man the net for the remaining 15:44 of the game.
The freshman, propelled onto the national stage in arguably the biggest game in Yale hockey history, let in back-to-back goals within 23 seconds of each other before settling in and staving off another four shots. By that time, the Bulldogs were trailing 9–4.
“You always prepare yourself to play in every game, but you obviously want to see the guy who’s starting play the whole game,” Malcolm said of being called into action in the third period. “It’s a tough situation, but you have to focus on the task at hand and step in and make some saves.”
Yale scored three more times in the remaining minutes but was unable to overcome the deficit.
The nation’s highest-scoring offense had been conceding 2.94 goals on average heading into the NCAAs. The Bulldogs had not allowed this many goals since a 9–1 loss to Minnesota-Duluth on Nov. 25, 2005.
Despite the revolving door of goalies used by Allain against the Eagles, the Yale head coach said the defense collectively struggled to keep Boston College off the scoreboard.
“I don’t think we were very good defensively and obviously the goaltenders are part of that, but they certainly weren’t the only part of that,” Allain said.
Rondeau, Malcolm and Maricic will be returning for the 2010-’11 season as Yale looks for its third-straight ECAC regular season championship.