Broc Little ’11 said urgency was the word of the night. His team made good on that Saturday, but urgency will remain the big word through Sunday.
Faced with elimination Saturday night, Denny Kearney ’11 had three points and the men’s hockey team beat back streaking St. Lawrence, 5–2, to force a deciding third game in the ECAC quarterfinals. Kearney’s assist on a second period goal by Kevin Limbert ’12 triggered a three-goal Yale scoring outburst from which the Saints could not recover.
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“They were desperate tonight, they were trying to stay alive,” Saints head coach Joe Marsh said of the Elis. “The toughest thing in sports is to end another team’s season.”
Marsh acknowledged that Yale’s season is far from over, as the Elis will continue at the NCAA championships no matter how they fare in the ECAC playoffs, but that sense of do-or-die desperation was nonetheless apparent all game. The two teams’ playoff mindset emerged quickly as tempers flared early and the game turned testy. The opponents combined for 32 penalty minutes — including a ten-minute misconduct Little received for a third-period hit — despite laissez-faire playoff officiating. The boards rattled early and often from the force of hard hits, and the Yale fans voiced their approval or lack thereof often and at a high volume.
The two teams did not escape the chippy game unscathed, as Brendan Mason ’11 — a mainstay on Yale’s checking line — and St. Lawrence defender Justin Baker both left the game with injuries in the second period and did not return.
“In the playoffs, there’s a desperation factor and guys are working hard,” Marsh said. “You just need to play with control and discipline too.”
Yale showed off all the control and discipline it needed to when it harnessed its desperation to stay in the ECAC tournament in a dominant second period.
St. Lawrence had seized the momentum at the end of a close first period when Kyle Flanagan scored 1.6 seconds before the end of the frame. But Kevin Limbert ’12, Clinton Bourbonais ’14, and Kevin Peel ’12 broke the game open with a trio of second period goals in a five-minute stretch that left the Saints stunned.
“I think the biggest thing from the whole team was just total focus from the beginning of the day,” Little said. “We knew that we had to come out.”
Red-hot St. Lawrence goaltender Matt Weninger had stonewalled both Princeton and Yale with 79 saves on 83 shots in his past two games, and looked poised to keep his impressive performance going at the outset of the Saints’ second tilt with Yale. On Saturday, however, Yale beat him top shelf, bottom corner, and behind his back.
Kearney had started the scoring late in an otherwise lackluster first stanza when he jumped on the rebound of a Kevin Peel ’12 shot and pushed it past Weninger to give Yale a 1–0 lead.
The Elis didn’t need to whack at rebounds in the second period. Their offensive outburst was vintage Yale: pretty passes and prettier shots. And once the attack started clicking, the Elis never looked back. Head coach Keith Allain ’80 said Friday’s game was lost when his team could not convert opportunities and turn a 3–1 lead into a 4–1 advantage. Yale did not make that mistake Saturday.
Limbert kicked off the fireworks with after a feed from Kearney set him up at point-blank range in front of Weninger. The goalie went low, Limbert went high, and Yale had a 2–1 lead.
Bourbonais and Peel each smoked wrist shots past Weninger before the period was done, and although the Saints responded with a goal late in the frame to cut their deficit to 4–2, the Bulldogs did not let their opponents come back this time.
“That loss last night was a wake up call,” Kearney said. “Everyone to a man took it upon himself to come out strong and not let up.”
St. Lawrence would not beat Yale netminder Ryan Rondeau ’11 again, and Little rounded out the scoring with a backhand past Weninger after he and Kearney executed a textbook give-and-go.
While the game boasted its share of smooth skating, the physical play caused some casualties. Brendan Mason ’11, left the game after taking a stick to the shoulder, and Allain said after the game that he was unsure about the extent of Mason’s injury.
The fate of St. Lawrence defender Justin Baker — who had to be helped off the ice after he was on the receiving end of a devastating Chad Zieger ’12 hit — is more certain. Marsh said the freshman would certainly miss Sunday’s game with a bad knee injury.
Saturday was undeniably physical, and Sunday is unlikely to be any different, Kearney said. Both teams will be playing for their lives in the do-or-die third game.
“I think that sometimes it takes you a little bit of time to get into playoff mode, and St. Lawrence had a three-game head start on us, but I liked the way we came out,” Allain said. “Tomorrow will be a heck of a hockey game.”
The decisive third game between the two conference foes kicks off at 7 p.m. Sunday.