PRINCETON, N.J. — Their timing could hardly be better.
The ECAC playoffs and NCAA tournament are rapidly approaching, and the men’s hockey team is back in form. The Elis (22–5, 16–4 ECAC) showcased the dynamic offense that carried them to wins in 16 of its first 17 games earlier this season with a pair of weekend victories at Quinnipiac (13–13–6, 6–9–5) and Princeton (15–10–2, 10–8–2). The wins helped Yale keep pace in the ECAC standings with first-place Union, which preserved its narrow one-point margin over the blue and white with two weekend victories of its own.
Union only needs to win its two remaining games against Quinnipiac and Princeton to break Yale’s two-year long grip on the ECAC regular season title.
The Elis are not paying close attention to the conference standings, according to captain Jimmy Martin ’11. They have won the ECAC title before; their goal is the national championship,
“It’s hard enough coaching my guys,” said head coach Keith Allain ’80, in response to a question about whether he was following Union.
Nevertheless, the Elis did clinch a prize with the Princeton win: the Ivy League championship.
Yale also kept on pace for a No. 1 seed in March’s national tournament with the victories, and played with the intensity it will need to advance in the single-elimination format of the hunt for the national championship.
“We strung three straight solid periods together, which is what you have to do to win in our league,” Martin said.
Quinnipiac brought the hype and the hits Friday night. Yale brought the hockey.
The red-hot Bulldog offense clicked into high gear for a second consecutive road game against the Bobcats (13–13–6, 6–9–5) at TD Bank Sports Center and lifted Yale to a 6–1 win. A sellout crowd filled the arena at Quinnipiac for a contest its students had dubbed “The Game.” But the Elis shut down their opponents on the ice with goals from five different skaters, the widening scoreboard deficit silencing the stands after the first period.
“I think we got back to playing our game,” Martin said. “We have a style of hockey and an intensity level that we strive for, and we got back to that tonight.”
Yale had rediscovered its offensive prowess on the road with a 6–3 victory over Clarkson last Saturday. The six-goal effort that crushed Quinnipiac proved that Yale’s highest scoring game since Nov. 20 was no fluke.
Though home fans armed with yellow thunder sticks and yellow “Beat Yale” T-shirts packed the student section, it took Yale just four minutes to negate their cheers. Five Yale goals in the first two periods ensured that Quinnipiac students were looking for the exits well before the clock expired.
The unrelenting offensive outburst showcased the depth of Yale’s attack, as every line managed a goal and each defensive pairing contributed at least a point. That balanced production was more than enough to top Quinnipiac, which beat netminder Ryan Rondeau ’11 once on 31 shots.
“Rondeau was outstanding,” Allain said. “It’s easy to forget about the goalie in a 6–1 game, but they had some really good chances and he looked poised and solid.”
The successful offensive effort started early — a welcome change for a team that has struggled to begin games with full intensity throughout the season. Even when Yale owned an 11-game winning streak, the team frequently stumbled in opening frames. Goals came in the second and third stanzas, not in the first 20 minutes.
Things were different against Quinnipiac. The first period spark that Yale ignited against Clarkson last Saturday continued to burn against the Elis’ crosstown rivals. Ken Trentowski ’11 and Kevin Limbert ’12 posted two goals, and Yale pressured Quinnipiac on four power plays in a first-period effort Denny Kearney ’11 said was very important.
“We’ve had some slow starts on the road recently,” he said. “Getting some early goals takes the crowd out of it a little bit.”
Yale increased its lead to 3–0 early in the second stanza. Martin had appeared to deflect a shot off the pipes, but referees reviewed his blast a minute later. The tape showed what Kearney said players from Yale’s bench saw all along — Martin’s shot had gone into the goal and through the net.
By the end of the second period, Yale had built a 5–1 lead and the once-raucous student section had dwindled in size and spirit. Yale drifted through the end of the game, and Kearney added one last goal on a shot that went the length of the ice after the Bobcats had pulled their goalie to turn a two-man advantage into a rare 6-on-3.
The game was so one-sided by the third period that, when a puck deflected into the Yale bench area with 15 minutes left, Allain — who is usually intensely focused on the bench — caught it and tossed it to a fan in the seats behind him.
Sunday is an unusual day to play college hockey, and a three-goal deficit is an unusual situation for the men’s hockey team. But, just 14 minutes into Sunday’s tilt with Princeton, the Elis found themselves in a 3–0 hole.
The early bounces had all gone Princeton’s way, and the Tigers had scored twice off rebounds and once off a shot that took a strange bounce off the end boards. Yale had hardly threatened home goalie Alan Reynolds.
“This was the first time all season we’ve been down by more than two goals,” said Brian O’Neill ’12, who had a goal and an assist. “And we know that we’re going to have to know how to come back if we’re going to win the national championship.”
The Bulldogs looked more frustrated than eager to come back when following Princeton’s third goal: immediately after the faceoff that restarted play, Brendan Mason ’11 was caught slashing far from the puck. Princeton had just scored on the power play six seconds before. Now, it was poised to widen its already-intimidating advantage.
Then Andrew Miller ’13 entered the picture. With Yale still shorthanded, he picked up a loose puck, stormed across the blue line, and fired a long wrist shot past Reynolds. It was the third shorthanded goal of the weekend for Yale, which had previously scored only once when down a man in the season. It was not the last.
Fewer than four minutes after Miller’s goal, the Elis were again shorthanded when Charles Brockett ’12 found a loose puck of his own, split a pair of defenders, and bore down alone on net. Desperate Princeton defenseman Taylor Fedun hooked him from behind. The referee signaled a penalty. Brockett kept going. With two defenders now draped over him, he rifled a wrist shot over Reynolds’s shoulder. Yale trailed by a single goal, 3–2.
“Charles’ goal sparked us,” said O’Neill, who finished off Yale’s first-period fireworks seconds after his teammate. “That was the turning point. We outplayed them from then on.”
O’Neil had been in the penalty box when Brockett scored. His penalty expired with just 18 seconds left in the period. Before Princeton could react to his return, he had parked himself at the side of the opposing net, received a pass from Martin, and redirected it for the tying goal. Eleven seconds remained in the period.
“It was a real testament to our mental game,” Chris Cahill ’11 said. “We stayed in the game because we wanted to be in it.”
The crowd at Princeton’s Hobey Baker Rink was silent when the horn sounded to end the first period. But its team returned to the ice ready to play, and took the lead again early in the second stanza with Rob Kleebaum’s second goal of the game.
“[Princeton] never went away,” Allain said. “They kept coming all game.”
But Yale did not go away either. Kenny Agostino ’14 tied the game once more ten minutes later, and although the Tigers played the Elis to a draw for most of the third period, Cahill broke the 4–4 tie. He took a pass from Miller, pulled a spin move directly in front of the goal, and fired a blind shot that beat Reynolds.
Minutes later, Yale had the win, a three-game road winning streak, and the Ivy League championship. It will stay in the friendly confines of Ingalls Rink, where it is undefeated, for the two remaining games of the regular season and for the quarterfinals of the ECAC playoffs.
“It’s always tough to win on the road in the ECAC, but we gutted it out and we won a championship today,” Miller said. “We weren’t lackadaisical. We moved and we made the plays.”
The Bulldogs will host Colgate (7–23–2, 4–14–2) on Friday night and then conclude the regular season with a game against Cornell (13–11–3, 11–7–2) the following night.