PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Brown’s hockey team is, on any given night, mediocre. Except when it’s supposed to lose.
The Bears, who upset Yale in the ECAC quarterfinals last year and have beaten then No. 10 Boston University and tied No. 5 New Hampshire this season, slew another Goliath on Sunday. Harry Zolnierczyk lifted the crowd to its feet when he scored the game-winner with less than a minute to play and the Bears (6–7–4, 4–5–1 ECAC) eked out a 3–2 win against the No. 1
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Bulldogs (15–2, 9–1) the day after losing, 5–2, at Ingalls Rink.
“It’s huge for our program to get a split out of this series,” an elated Zolniercyzk said after the game. “It’s not often you get to knock off the No. 1 team in the nation.”
The upstart Bears’ victory snapped the longest win streak in the country — Yale had not lost since Nov. 14 — and handed the Bulldogs their first conference defeat of the season. But even Brown could not dismantle Yale’s No. 1 ranking, and the Elis remained the nation’s top squad despite their first loss since Nov. 14 with 38 of 50 first place votes in Monday’s USCHO poll and 26 of 34 first place votes in the USA Today poll.
Yale received help from the other teams at the top of the rankings to preserve its position. No. 2 North Dakota, No. 3 Boston College, No. 4 Denver, and No. 5 Minnesota-Duluth all lost one of their games over the weekend. Although none fell to opponents with losing records as Yale did, none boasts a record as impressive as the Bulldogs’ either. Each team has at least five losses this season — Yale now has two.
SATURDAY NIGHT FIGHTS
The Bulldogs outlasted Brown in a physical game Saturday in which the two teams spent a combined 26 minutes in the penalty box. Yale stayed solid on defense as hits intensified and drew away from its weary opponents in the third period thanks in large part to the efforts of rising star Andrew Miller ’13, whose power play goal in the final stanza was the game winner.
“He’s just able to go against the grain of the pace,” said head coach Keith Allain ’80. “If they go fast, he can go fast, but if they expect him to go fast, he can cut back and look for second waves.”
Brown drew first blood when Michael Juola scored seven minutes into the first period. But Broc Little ’11 soon tied the game when he converted the rebound from his own missed breakaway attempt. Though Yale finished the first period with a 2–1 lead, Zolnierczyk evened the game at two when he beat goaltender Ryan Rondeau ’11 on a shorthanded breakaway for the only goal of the second period.
Yale came close to earning the go-ahead goal with three minutes to play in the second, when Brendan Mason ’11 redirected an Antoine Laganiere ’13 pass past Clemente. The red light went on, but the officials ruled upon video review that the puck had not crossed the goal line.
Mason’s effort came just after the end of one of five penalties Brown accrued in the first two periods. But the Bulldogs had not capitalized on any of their advantages. When Brown’s penalty trouble continued in the final period, Yale finally made the visitors pay.
Miller, who leads the nation in assists, had narrowly missed on multiple passes to teammates near the goal early in the game. But with Zolnierczyk off for tripping, Miller began to shoot. Quick passes from Brian O’Neill ’12 and Chris Cahill ’11 set him up with an open look at the net, and he rifled a wrist shot past Clemente for what would be the game-winning goal.
The same line widened the Yale lead with their tape-to-tape passes just four minutes later. O’Neill took a pass from Cahill and slipped it inside the near post and past Clemente.
Brown head coach Brendan Whittet tried to jump-start his offense by pulling Clemente with 2:38 to go, but it took Josh Balch ’13 just 12 seconds to ensure that the strategy would backfire. His shot from the red line sealed the 5–2 victory.
THE STING OF DEFEAT
The Yale team that so definitively pulled away from Brown on Saturday stumbled against the Bears in Providence the next afternoon.
Jack Maclellan and his line led a gutsy effort by Brown that ultimately proved too much for the Yale defense. Maclellan and linemates Zolnierczyk and Garnet Hathaway accounted for four of five Brown goals on the weekend, with all three scoring one apiece in Sunday’s upset.
“They’re a good line — they’ve got good speed and they play them all the time,” Allain said. “But we’ve got lines I think are better.”
Still, those lines couldn’t best Brown’s top trio of attackers and the Elis — who have repeatedly shown themselves to be a third-period powerhouse — fell in what is typically their strongest frame as Brown stunned their fans with a third period comeback.
Yale got on the board first when Denny Kearney ’11 got the puck from Little while the Elis were on power play with three minutes left in the first period. He flicked a shot past Clemente before Brown’s goalie could get his bearings. But Brown responded quickly when Maclellan scored the first of his line’s goals 27 seconds into the second stanza. His effort was the only tally either side would see that period.
“We had chances and just didn’t capitalize on them and got lazy,” O’Neill said. “I guess you have to create your own energy, which we didn’t do.”
The Bulldogs appeared to rally in the third period when they pulled ahead with a slim 2–1 lead in the seventh minute. Kevin Peel ’12 started the play when he sent a hard one-timer from the blue line. The Bears blocked Peel’s attempt, but O’Neill grabbed the rebound and flipped the puck into the net from the left circle.
The goal, if anything, seemed to spur Brown’s fierce resolve to best the Blue. The Bears resolute attempts on net paid off when Hathaway bypassed Rondeau from point-blank range with six minutes to go. But Zolnierczyk, who had missed half of the second period with a 10-minute misconduct, delivered the final blow.
Zolnierczyk received the puck in neutral territory and broke away toward Yale’s goal. He outstripped every Yale defenseman on the ice and faked left before cutting across Rondeau to poke the puck under his stick into the corner of the net and set the red light flashing with 46 seconds remaining. It was a one-goal deficit the Blue proved unable to close.
“I don’t think it’s ever good to get a loss, but we’ve got to take advantage of it,” Allain said. “If it wakes us up, I guess that’s a good thing.”
Yale takes the ice next for a 7 p.m. home match against Clarkson, before playing St. Lawrence at 7 p.m. Saturday.