They may not have a title yet, but they’re playoff bound.
While the men’s hockey team finished its regular season with a strong victory over Cornell (13–13–3, 11–9–2), its tie with Colgate (4–15–3, 7–24–3) the night before prevented Yale from overtaking Union to capture the ECAC regular season title. The Elis will enter the conference playoffs as a second seed even though they retain the No. 1 spot in the PairWise rankings, which determine the seeding of the NCAA tournament.
Yale entered the weekend a point behind Union in the ECAC standings. The Dutchmen retained that razor-thin margin by skating to a tie and a win of their own over the weekend. Although Yale’s two-year hold on the championship is now at an end, the win over Cornell on Senior Night gave the Bulldogs momentum heading into the two-week break before the start of the postseason, and capped an undefeated regular season at Ingalls Rink.
But the men’s hockey team, and particularly its seniors, are far from finished. Ideally, head coach Keith Allain ’80 said, they will close out their Yale careers with eight more games — the number of wins the team needs to capture both the ECAC and NCAA postseason tournaments.
“I appreciate what these guys have done for us every day of the season for the past four years,” Allain said. “But if you ask them, they’re not done yet.”
Broc Little ’11 scored his first goal in three weeks on Saturday, but it was Andrew Miller ’13 who rallied the offense. Miller, who. according to Allain, leads the team in assists but can be hesitant to take shots of his own, took all the chances he needed to over the weekend. The center scored the team’s lone goal Friday night and two more the next.
“A guy like Andrew becomes much harder to defend when the threat of a shot is thrown into the mix,” Allain said. “I’d like to see him shoot more often.”
While Miller led Yale’s attack, goalie Ryan Rondeau ’11 carried the team on the defensive end. He allowed just one goal each game, and raised both his goals against average and save percentage to the third-best marks in the country.
But even Rondeau’s 31 stops on 32 chances Friday night were not enough to turn an anemic Yale offensive effort into a victory over Colgate, the worst team in the ECAC.
COLGATE BEATS YALE, 1–1
The Elis have played lethargic first periods throughout the season, but the team seemed to have kicked that habit two weeks ago when it burned Quinnipiac for two early goals and combined with Princeton for six scores in the first period the next night.
But then the Elis started slowly against Colgate, and stayed sluggish all game en route to a 1–1 tie against the last-place Raiders.
“I’d feel better about it if I thought we played really well,” Allain said after the game. “I thought we played OK.”
Indeed, although the scoreboard showed a tie, Colgate head coach Don Vaughan called the game one in which his team came out top.
“We bent,” Vaughan said. “But we didn’t break.”
Though Yale threatened the Raiders throughout the first period and the visitors managed their fair share of counterattacks, goalies Eric Mihalik of Colgate and Rondeau were the stars of the period, and the two teams headed for the locker rooms locked in a scoreless tie.
The Elis finally put a number on the scoreboard after killing off a boarding penalty called on Brian O’Neill ’12 early in the second stanza. The right winger streaked out of the box just in time, corralling the puck, threading it behind his back to Miller and spinning around to watch his teammate flip a shot over Mihalik’s shoulder.
Yale could not widen the lead, and the Raiders evened the score at one later in the period. Austin Mayer and Chris Wagner executed a textbook give-and-go that split the Yale defense and left Rondeau baffled.
But Rondeau would not be baffled again. Nor would his counterpart at the other end of the ice. Mihalik, a rookie whose play has been mediocre all season, caught fire Friday night and turned aside 39 of the 40 shots Yale fired at him through 60 minutes of play and overtime.
“He had a really good game,” Rondeau said of Mihalik. “Every time we had a chance, he seemed to turn it aside.”
Mihalik was good, but Yale’s offense did not threaten as it usually does. The team lost most battles for rebounds and failed to demonstrate the kind of passing prowess that characterizes its higher-scoring successes. Denny Kearney ’11 had one of the team’s best chances to win midway through the extra period. With Mihalik prone on the ice after stopping a shot from Little, Kearney had the puck at his feet but failed to connect cleanly, and his shot veered harmlessly wide of the unguarded net.
Union also skated to a Friday night tie, and so the Elis remained a single point back in the conference standings and retained an outside chance at the Cleary Cup as they prepared for their game against Cornell.
RED LIGHTS GREET BIG RED
The team Allain thought “played OK” against Colgate redeemed itself with a full 60-minute effort against Cornell the next night. The Bulldog offense shifted back into high gear and Rondeau once again held the fort in net as Yale rolled to a 4–1 win over the Big Red.
“I really liked the way we played tonight,” Allain said after the game. “We had lots of energy, played smart and had lots of offense. It was a good Yale hockey game.”
Despite its play, the team could not pass Union in the standings. The Dutchmen clinched the title when they shut out Princeton by a 5–0 margin.
“We obviously didn’t want to finish second,” captain Jimmy Martin ’11 said. “But ultimately we’re proud of a good win and some good hockey.”
Just as they had against Colgate, the Elis failed to score in the first period against Cornell. Although they outshot the Big Red by a wide 14–5 margin and made the crowd gasp when O’Neill clanged a shot off the crossbar early on, the Bulldogs found themselves stymied by visiting goalie Mike Garman.
Once again, however, Miller broke the scoreless tie with a goal early in the second period. This time, Yale kept the offense coming.
“We did a lot of little things better Saturday night,” said Martin. “We bore down more on some opportunities.”
Clinton Bourbonais ’14, who was playing his first game in more than a month, made Yale’s lead 2–0 when he found enough room in the slot to rifle a low shot just past Garman’s outstretched leg, off the inside of the post and across the goal line.
It took just over a minute for Little to tack on another goal. Kevin Limbert ’12 fed his linemate with a long pass, and Little buried his chance.
“They’ve been hard to come by lately,” Little said of his goal. “It was awesome to get one there.”
Although Cornell scored shorthanded later in the period on a Greg Miller breakaway to cut the Yale lead to 3–1, the Bulldogs sealed the game with a shorthanded goal of their own with less than three minutes to go.
The Big Red were on the power play and had pulled Garman so they could skate six-on-four when Miller picked off a pass and fired a shot the length of the ice into the empty net. The score would remain 4–1 until the final whistle, when the team gave fans an especially emphatic salute.
Though Allain insisted after the game that he feels like the team still has many games ahead, Martin admitted that Senior Night was “kind of sad for everybody.”
The Eli seniors found some time to get sentimental after the game, as they skated back onto the ice with their helmets off for pictures with their families. Chris Cahill ’11 fixed the helmet hair of Kearney before one snapshot, and Ken Trentowski ’11 carried two relatives at a time — while still in skates — for another.
Despite the pause for pictures, and although Allain said he would give his players some extra time off in the coming week, there are tournaments approaching and plenty of work left to do.
“The real fun begins now,” Little said.
The Bulldogs begin the ECAC playoffs with a three-game quarterfinal series at home against the second-lowest-ranked team to advance from next weekend’s first round.