WORCESTER, MASS. — If you had told Yale fans that the men’s hockey team would defeat second-seeded North Dakota and score seven goals against first-seeded Boston College this past weekend, many Yalies would have already booked their trips to Detroit for the Frozen Four.
Coming in to the weekend as heavy underdogs, the Bulldogs stunned No. 4 North Dakota, winning 3–2 in the NCAA Northeast Regional semifinals on Saturday, and were one win from advancing to their first Frozen Four since 1952 — back before it even had such a name.
On Sunday, though, Yale’s defense unraveled, and the Bulldogs were unable to come back from a 9–4 third-period deficit in their 9–7 loss to No. 3 Boston College in the NCAA Northeast Regional finals.
“In the next couple weeks I’m sure we’ll look back on it more,” said defenseman Tom Dignard ’10, who played in his last game as a Bulldog on Sunday. “But right now we’re still in the moment.”
UPSET TO START WEEKEND
Despite not having played for two weeks — and playing without injured All-ECAC forward Sean Backman ’10 — the third-seeded Bulldogs started off strong against North Dakota, taking the lead in the sixth minute and holding a 3–0 lead in the third period, en route to a 3–2 upset over the two-seeded Fighting Sioux.
The victory on Saturday marked the first time the Bulldogs won a postseason game since beating St. Lawrence in a 1952 final four consolation game. In last year’s NCAA Tournament, Yale was quickly ousted in a 4–1 loss to three-seeded Vermont. But this time around, the Bulldogs said they were looser.
“We kind of knew that we were playing with house money,” defenseman Ryan Donald ’10 said Saturday. “Not too many people were expecting too much out of us.”
In the press conference following Saturday’s win, head coach Keith Allain ’80 added: “I feel like we played tight [last year against Vermont], and I could sense it coming in. I was determined to make sure that if we weren’t going to be successful, that wasn’t going to be the reason.”
All season long Allain, a Worcester native, has switched among four goaltenders, with Billy Blase ’10 and Nick Maricic ’13 earning the majority of the starts. On Saturday, though, Allain surprised fans when he decided to start Ryan Rondeau ’11 in the net. Rondeau had only played in four games this season and had not appeared in a game since giving up five goals to Brown on Nov. 21.
“It’s really no different than anything we’ve been doing all year long,” Allain said. “I told the team after we got knocked out in our conference tournament, that the goaltender who deserved to play after these two weeks of practice was going to play. It was open season competition, and Ryan won the competition.”
Left winger Denny Kearney ’11 gave the Elis the early 1–0 lead against UND when he deflected a slap shot from Dignard at 5:48.
Then, midway through the second period, Kearney scored his second of the night on a 3-on-1 breakaway that saw the junior rush toward the North Dakota goaltender Brad Eidsness and slide the puck around Eidsness’s right pad.
The Fighting Sioux had a chance to pull it within one when they were awarded a penalty shot, but Darcy Zajac’s shot rang off the left post and bounced out.
With about two minutes left in the second period, Mark Arcobello ’10 — who, along with Dignard, was named to the All-Tournament Team at the end of the weekend — scored on an odd-man-rush that resulted from Donald diving to block a UND shot with his body.
Although the Fighting Sioux headed into the locker room at the end of the second period down by three, they were by no means dead.
Less than three minutes into the final frame, right winger Brett Hextall gave North Dakota its first goal with a high wrister from the left face-off dot that found the net over Rondeau’s shoulder glove-side.
The Fighting Sioux made it interesting when right winger Matt Frattin tallied on a breakaway to cut the Yale lead to one.
Sensing the momentum swing, Allain immediately called a timeout to weather the storm.
“We knew that [the Fighting Sioux] weren’t going to go away,” Allain said. “We reminded our guys that if they wanted to be champions, they were going to have to go through some rough times. This was our test, and we passed it pretty well.”
From then on, North Dakota pressured the Elis relentlessly, out-shooting them 18–5 during the third period. But a crucial Yale penalty kill with less than five minutes left in the game kept the Fighting Sioux from tying the game.
Although they were out-shot 37–23 by UND, the Bulldogs eked out the win and found themselves just one step away from their second ever appearance in the Frozen Four.
UNABLE TO KEEP UP
Sunday’s contest was Yale’s season in a nutshell. The Bulldogs showcased the nation’s highest-scoring offense but had difficulty on the other side of the ice against the opportunistic Eagles and ultimately fell 9–7. The seven goals are tied for the most a losing team has ever scored in an NCAA Tournament game.
Arcobello had a hat trick and three assists — the second highest number of points in an NCAA Tournament game — but Yale’s offensive output was overshadowed by the Elis’ porous defense and goaltending. Three goaltenders — Rondeau, Blase and Jeff Malcolm ’13 — all saw action, with Rondeau allowing five goals in 30 minutes and Blase and Malcolm each surrendering two scores in about 13 minutes of action.
“I don’t think we were very good as a team defensively, and obviously the goaltenders are part of that,” Allain, a former Yale goalie, said. “But they certainly weren’t the only part of that.”
The night before, Rondeau and the Yale defense were staunch, allowing just two goals on 37 shots to the Fighting Sioux, who had been 12–1 over their previous 13 games.
Playing just 45 minutes from Boston, BC center Brian Gibbons seized the early 1–0 lead off of a breakaway after Donald’s stick broke in half in front of the largely pro-BC crowd.
Thirteen minutes into the game, left winger Brian O’Neill ’12 responded with a goal off a rebound from an Arcobello shot.
And then the Bulldogs fell victim to a deflating short-handed goal that had already made ESPN SportsCenter’s “Top Ten” on Sunday night.
With Yale on the power play toward the end of the period, BC defenseman Carl Sneep collected the puck behind the Eagles’ blue line and launched a clearance that bounced a few feet in front of Rondeau, hit the goalie’s left pad and deflected into the net.
“You don’t expect it to bounce like that on ice,” Allain said. “It was a perfect bounce for them and a terrible bounce for us.”
After the Eagles made it 3–1 early in the second period, Arcobello wristed a shot past John Muse to halve the deficit.
Boston College’s response was almost instantaneous, as 11 seconds later Cam Atkinson easily scored his first of three goals after intercepting a sloppy Donald pass in front of Rondeau.
Two more goals midway through the second period made it seem like Boston College was going to run away with it, but tallies from Arcobello and Kearney kept the contest within two goals, at 6–4, heading into the final frame.
In the third period, the Eagles looked to have all but shut the door on the Bulldogs with three consecutive goals in the period’s first eight minutes.
But Arcobello and the Bulldogs were not yet ready to fold.
“[Backman] wasn’t in the lineup, and that’s a hole for us,” Allain said. “Mark [Arcobello] has been more of a playmaker this year than a finisher, and I think he saw where there was a need tonight and he certainly did everything he could to fill it.”
After Arcobello sealed his hat trick with a power play goal at 13:32, Arcobello added an assist after O’Neill deflected his shot in to make it 9–6.
With a little less than three minutes in the game, Allain decided to pull Malcolm to add another skater. The risk paid off when right winger Broc Little ’11 made it 9–7 with 1:22 left. But the comeback was too little too late, and Boston College emerged as the victor.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of my guys,” Allain said. “There were numerous occasions through the course of the game where they could’ve thrown in the towel, and they never did. That’s what I’ve come to expect from this group.”