The men’s hockey team has been struggling on the road, costing it its No. 1 ranking. But no one can touch the Bulldogs at home.
No. 2 Yale (19–4, 13–3 ECAC) rebounded from two road losses last week with a pair of wins against Harvard and Dartmouth this weekend. But there were few similarities between Yale’s two games other than the end result. The Bulldogs’ offensive troubles continued Friday night when they registered their fewest goals of the season against struggling Harvard (4–17, 3–13) and needed a shutout performance from Ryan Rondeau ’11 to eke out a 1–0 win.
The next night, the Eli attack followed the lead of Broc Little ’11 — who scored for the first time in six games — and snapped out of a prolonged slump with a 4–2 victory over visiting No. 17 Dartmouth (13–7–3, 9–5–2).
“We were getting into some bad habits,” Kevin Peel ’12 said after Saturday’s victory. “Last night [against Harvard] was kind of a different game. We didn’t play very well, but it was a big win. Tonight, we knew we were back in the win column and that gave us some confidence.”
The Bulldogs kept their perfect record at Ingalls Rink this season intact in front of capacity crowds that included the upper echelons of the school administration and various politicians.
The pair of wins also maintained Yale’s one-point grip on first place in the ECAC, as second place and No. 10/11 Union won both its weekend games.
On Friday night, however, Yale’s success was far from assured.
SENATORS AND SKATERS
Yale’s oldest rival was in town. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was in the stands. Ryan Rondeau ’11 was back up to his usual standards.
The Eli netminder atoned for a shaky showing at Rensselaer last Saturday with his third shutout of the season in a narrow 1–0 victory over Harvard.
The traditional rivalry game drew not only Ingalls Rink’s routine sellout crowd, but also some of the biggest Democrats in New England politics. Governor Dan Malloy and Senator Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 joined Massachusetts Senator John Kerry ’66 in the stands. President Richard Levin, Provost Peter Salovey, Chief Investment Officer David Swensen GRD ’80 and Yale Corporation Senior Fellow Roland Betts ‘68 also added to the wattage in the crowd,
“I really admire these guys,” said Kerry, who was rooting for the Elis. “I played JV here and I’m amazed by their speed and quickness. They’re great to watch.”
But the men on the ice set out to end a two-game losing streak by getting back to basics, according to captain Jimmy Martin ’11.
The Elis did not return to their old high-scoring ways — they were held to fewer than two goals for the first time this season. But Rondeau ensured that the Elis’ lone goal — a third period marker from Martin — stood.
“It was a classic goaltender battle,” the senior netminder said.
Indeed, Crimson goalie Ryan Carroll denied the Elis through the first two periods. When Martin notched the game’s only goal in the third, Yale had not scored at even strength in eight consecutive periods.
“Some nights everything is clicking, and some nights it’s not,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “If you’re going to be a good team, you have to find ways to make things work when it’s not.”
That failure to click offensively marked a stark departure from the last meeting between the squads, when the Crimson earned 17 penalty minutes and Yale converted two of its opportunities.
Harvard head coach Ted Donato knew things had to change this time.
“We took too many penalties last time against them, and their power play is excellent if you hook and hold to slow them down,” he said. “They’re one of the top teams offensively in the country, and we had to go after them.”
Although the Cantabs succeeded in shutting down the Yale offense for two straight periods, the nation’s worst scoring offense could not take advantage of the close game.
Harvard matched Yale shot for shot, but only a few one-timers came close to ending Rondeau’s shutout bid. None of those was more dangerous than a Connor Morrison pass through the Yale zone that bounced through traffic to the far side of the net minutes after Martin’s goal and caught Rondeau out of position. Leading Harvard scorer Alex Killorn dove to push the puck into the open net, but the Eli netminder dove too, and covered up just before Killorn forced the puck out from under his glove and into the net.
The referees’ no goal call withstood a video review, and Rondeau stonewalled the Cantabs for the rest of the game.
“It was a well played hockey game,” Donato said. “Just one of their shots was better.”
That shot was a low wrister that Martin fired after Jesse Root ’14 won a faceoff in the Harvard end and sent the puck back to his captain. Martin took a couple strides before sending the puck low and through Carroll’s legs.
Yale skated off the ice with the win after a gritty defensive battle in which Harvard played far better than its disastrous record indicates.
“They definitely matched our intensity,” Rondeau said. “And that was a big key.”
Intensity proved key again the next night, as Yale overpowered Dartmouth by dominating the middle of the game.
DOUBLING UP DARTMOUTH
Yale had to grit out its Friday win. The next night, it won with flair.
The Bulldogs dominated offensively for almost the entire game, Broc Little ’11 broke out of his scoring slump with the game-winning goal, and Yale rolled to its third victory of the season over Dartmouth.
“It was huge to get back on track,” Little said. “We just focused on skating, keeping our feet moving, and I think that’s the biggest thing. Teams can’t handle our speed.”
Yale used that speed to overcome familiar nemesis James Mello, the Big Green’s goaltender, who almost stole the game for his team when the Elis traveled to Hanover in early January.
The diminutive, 5-foot-9-inch goalie certainly played the part of the villain as Yale’s offense blitzed him at the rate of almost a shot a minute through the first period. During stoppages in play, Mello repeatedly skated over to the Yale student section and banged his stick on the boards, beckoning the blue and white faithful to bring it on.
The Elis on the ice brought it on.
Charles Brockett ’12 made up for an early Big Green goal when he deflected a Nick Jaskowiak ’12 shot past Mello midway through the first period, and the Bulldogs never looked back.
With more than 3,500 voices cheering them on, Yale’s attackers broke out of a long slump. No forward on the team had scored at even strength in three games until Brockett’s goal. Once the grinder — who had scored only once before in his career — found the back of the net, the rest of the offense followed.
Andrew Miller ’13 gave Yale a 2–1 lead early in the second period when he punched in a rebound, and the Elis dominated the rest of the period at every end of the ice — Dartmouth managed only three shots in the stanza.
“Yale has offensive flair, and the way to keep their attack in check is to make them play defense,” Dartmouth head coach Bob Gaudet said. “But we let them get good chances.”
No one demonstrated that flair more than Little, who snapped his scoreless streak with a power play wrist shot in the second that made the score 3–1 and proved to be the game winner. After his shot clanged off the bottom of the crossbar and in, Little demonstrated his excitement with a celebration emphatic even by his usual excitable standards.
“I’d been holding it in for a few weeks, so I had to let it out,” Little said.
The Bulldogs’ relentless pressure kept the Big Green pinned in their own zone for most of the period, but the visitors managed to make one of their few forays into Yale’s end count. Dartmouth’s Connor Goggin scored off a late second period faceoff with a soft shot that surprised Rondeau and cut the Yale momentum.
Though the Big Green followed Goggin’s effort with a strong third period, Yale held strong. Kevin Limbert ’11 made the score 4–2 with 90 seconds to play and the Elis finished their 19th win of the season with just three penalties.
One of those infractions will keep Jaskowiak out of the lineup for Yale’s next game. Both he and Dartmouth’s Doug Jones were assigned game disqualifications for removing their facemasks in a third period tussle. Those penalties come with automatic one-game suspensions. The two exchanged blows after Jaskowiak took a cheap hit to the head in front of the Yale bench.
With two consecutive wins under its belt, Yale will try to snap its three-game road losing streak in upstate New York next weekend against St. Lawrence and Clarkson.