M. HOCKEY | Hopes dashed in Bridgeport

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Photo by Brianne Bowen.

BRIDGEPORT — Head coach Keith Allain ’80 called him the heart and soul of the men’s hockey team. He led Yale in scoring both last year and this year. He had two of Yale’s final five goals of the season.

And when Brian O’Neill ’12 was ejected 11:38 into the second period of Yale’s East Regional final matchup with Minnesota-Duluth for an alleged hit to the head, the Elis’ hopes for the season left the ice with him.

Although replays of the hit seemed to contradict the officials’ decision — ESPNU commentator Barry Melrose called the play “clean” — the call had been made. Five minutes later, Minnesota-Duluth had built a 5–1 lead from which Yale (28–7–1) never recovered.

Just one day after the Elis earned a spot in the East Regional final with a thrilling overtime victory against Air Force, Yale’s championship dreams ended in a heartbreaking 5–3 defeat at the hands of Duluth (24–10–6). The loss dashed Yale’s hopes of advancing to the NCAA Frozen Four and ended both the winningest season in program history and the collegiate careers of the nine seniors who constitute the most successful class ever to don Yale hockey jerseys.

“I certainly don’t want to take the jersey off for the last time,” captain Jimmy Martin ’11 said. “It’s been an honor to play for the University. It’s got such a great hockey tradition, and it’s an honor for our class to be a part of that now.”

Although the Elis fell in the national quarterfinals for the second consecutive year, the seniors led their team to its first national No. 1 ranking in Yale history. They captured the ECAC Tournament championship and came within a single point of the regular season title.

Martin, Broc Little ’11, Denny Kearney ’11 and goaltender Ryan Rondeau ’11 will all depart as holders of individual school records. The class collectively has won more games than any that preceded it. But on Saturday, those numbers were no consolation for the team.

“Tonight was brutal,” Little said after the game. “It was a fun four years and we had some success, but we wanted to play two more games. We thought we could do it.”

FALCONS GROUNDED

Brian O’Neill ’12 scored Yale’s first goal against UMD, but was ejected seconds later after a controversial penalty.
Brian O’Neill ’12 scored Yale’s first goal against UMD, but was ejected seconds later after a controversial penalty.

Yale’s season could easily have ended on Friday. The Elis needed a diving overtime goal from Chad Ziegler ’12 to eliminate a scrappy Air Force squad.

Three minutes into the extra frame, Ziegler stretched his stick out just enough to knock the rebound of his own shot past sprawling Falcons goalie Jason Torf. The red light flashed, the Elis mobbed the right winger, and Yale earned a spot in the national quarterfinals with the dramatic win.

“I’ll tell you what, there ain’t a more relieved guy in the building right now than Keith Allain,” Air Force head coach Frank Serratore said after the game. “Because he knows he got a heck of a game from the guys from Air Force.”

Air Force was the last seed overall in the tournament, but the team still stifled the Eli offense all night Friday as they fought to outlast the favorites. They clogged passing lanes, blocked shots and came inches from the upset.

Even as Yale’s offense struggled to find holes among the cadets, its defense also shone. Led by Rondeau, who had not allowed a goal in three games, the Elis grounded Air Force’s attack.

“You just have to stay the course,” Martin. “Against a team that was playing so tough, you just have to stay within yourself and have the confidence that you can break through, which we did.”

That breakthrough in overtime lifted a crowd of 7,671 — most of which was clad in Yale blue — to its feet and prompted wild celebration by the Bulldogs. But the Eli victory was far from certain at any point during the game. The two teams were tied — first at zero and then at one — at each of the three intermissions, and Yale recorded the fewest shots it has all season.

Serratore said that his team’s solid defensive performance began with a “rope-a-dope” game plan to outlast the Elis, who he did not think could maintain their frenetic pace for 60 minutes.

But Yale got all the offense it needed in regulation, and Serratore could only watch as Ziegler pounced on a rebound, stretching onto his stomach, and hitting the puck just inside the post.

“When you’re the best team in the country, you get those bounces,” Air Force captain Jacques Lamoureux said.

Yale’s only other offense on the night came from O’Neill, who tapped a cross-ice feed from Nick Jaskowiak ’12 past Torf during the second period.

“O’Neill gives all he has not just every single night but every single shift,” Allain said. “He exposes his body to some pretty devastating hits, but he just gets up, goes; gets up, goes; gets up, goes.”

ELIS ELIMINATED

On Saturday, O’Neill didn’t just expose himself to hits. He dealt a big one, and Yale paid the price for it.

Seven second-period penalties, 29 total penalty minutes and a devastating ejection for O’Neill buried the Elis in a deficit they could not escape. Duluth punched its first ticket to the Frozen Four in seven years as solid goaltending from Kenny Reiter and an offense that capitalized on its chances carried the underdogs to a 5–3 win.

Duluth used a late shorthanded tally to end the first period with a 1–0 lead, but it did real damage in a four-goal second stanza dominated by the referees’ whistles. None of those whistles — which assigned 15 penalty minutes to Yale and four to Duluth — impacted the game more than the call on O’Neill.

The right winger had just narrowed Yale’s deficit to 3–1 when he one-timed a pass from Little just under the crossbar. But the referees promptly extinguished any Eli momentum that goal had sparked.

Eight seconds after his goal, O’Neill leveled Duluth’s Jake Hendrickson with a hard open-ice hit. Whistles blew immediately, and soon O’Neill had been assessed a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for contact to the head. Journalists watching from the press box said they never saw O’Neill make contact with Hendrickson’s head, and replays convinced ESPN commentators that the hit was clean.

Asked about the call after the game, Allain left no doubt about his opinion of the call, and pointedly told reporters to “look at the tape, and tell me what you think.”

“I thought we had momentum, and then they gave Brian a five-minute penalty and kicked him out of the game,” Allain said. “[They] took our best player out of the game.”

Duluth scored two goals on the ensuing power play, including one after a penalty on Jaskowiak put the Elis down two men.

It was obvious as the clock ticked away on Yale’s defeat Saturday that Yale’s seniors did not want the night to be their last on the ice. Little and Kearney both scored in the third, but despite their third-period efforts, Yale could not overcome the biggest deficit it had faced all season. Without their top scorer, the Elis became the third of four No. 1 seeds to suffer early elimination from the tournament.

Even though Nick Maricic ’13 replaced Rondeau in goal for the final frame and turned aside everything he faced, Minnesota mustered all the defense it needed to clinch its first Frozen Four appearance since 2004. When the buzzer sounded on the game, and on Yale’s season, the Elis gave one last salute to the few Yale faithful who remained chanting “Let’s go Yale” in the student section until the end.

“It’s tough to put this in perspective at this point,” Mike Matczak ’11 said. “It’s been an honor playing for this team. Unfortunately, we came up a minute short, but it was a hell of a ride.”

Comments

  • tjhotdogs

    It is **shameful** that so many Yalies abandoned their team at the end of an awesome season. I am damn proud of our team and of that hit that O’Neill laid on that kid playing for the UMD-bags.

    Kudos to those faithful who stayed true to the Blue.

  • MsMoneypenny

    Great season, guys! Only unfortunate they brought in those refs from Duluth!

  • wtf

    @ tjhotdogs,

    What do you mean “abandoned” when the entire stadium was filled with Yale supporters, including students? The ESPN3 coverage showed a fair number of students and their signs in attendence. I’m sure many were watching on the internet as well, being unable or unwilling to pay to go to Bridgeport for two games.

    As a Yale Bulldog, it was great to be able to be at least a little part of such a successful season. See you next November, and good luck to the seniors!

  • Hockeyfan79

    Ok, Yale fans. This is what you’re going to go with? Really? The refs screwed us over and that’s why we lost? I am neither from MN nor the Northeastern U.S,. and let me just point out a few things that I am sure your highly intelligent, over-educated minds can grasp.

    Saying that the game would have been tied 3-3 without the 5 minute major penalty is pointless. You’d have no idea whether or not they would have scored those 2 other goals anyway or whether they would have been playing more aggressive in the 3rd period when you scored your two goals. And the fact is even with your 1 goal in the 2nd, you were still getting it handed to you 3-1.

    Secondly, the refs missed a CLEAR 5 minute major just minutes before. Would have been a much less controversial call. And if you don’t want to have bad calls go against you, don’t put the refs in a position to make a bad call. Don’t hit the guy high in the chest in the open ice where it could look like a hit to the head.

    Incidentally, the player that got hit did in FACT get diagnosed with a concussion and did not return to the game so it would seem the call was the right one. Lay off the sour grapes Yale. Yelling “F-You” at the refs? Just because you lost doesn’t mean you have to ACT like losers. Be better than that.

  • siouxchamp

    The Refs, The Refs, The Refs! Please Yale…..Minn-Duluth had to kill off 9 penalties against Union (who lead the nation in PowerPlay goals) but you don’t hear Duluth crying about one call. They won and outplayed Union. The thing about the Big Show, the NCAA Tournament-is you face Ref’s your not familar with, what type of calls or game they will allow you to play—so the “better” team is the team that can adapt to the Refs and type of game. What we found out was Yale, was a very good hockey team this year–however, certainly “NOT” a #1 seed, and really not a capable Top-5 team in the country OR a Frozen Four team. The first “REAL” team Yale faced outside of the your joke ECAC conf, was Duluth and you lost. You also lost to RPI in Jan and they were completely embarassed by the Sioux. ECAC has a few more years to go….before they have a Team and is a Capable Frozen Four team.

  • Inigo_Montoya

    Look everyone,

    We lost and were outplayed on Saturday. No use blaming the refs. Yet for the WCHA fans to say this means Yale definitely must’ve been overrated and wasn’t a Top-5 team is absurd. This is a single elimination tournament. The “best” team doesn’t always win every game. Good teams have bad games in the tournament, as the Sioux should be well aware (I love Yale hockey, but I know we probably wouldn’t have beaten UND in a 3-game series last March). The Sioux’s loss to us didn’t mean they’d been overrated or overseeded. It meant they underperformed against a good Yale team that had a good game. Did that game mean that Yale was a Top 10 team last year and UND wasn’t? Of course not. Everyone knew Yale was playing above its head and UND was underperforming. So why now are people saying Yale must not have been a Top 5 team if it was upset by a pretty darn good (National No. 1 at one point this year) UMD team?

    I’m pretty confident Yale would have won a 5 or even 3 game series with UMD, but that’s not the point of the tournament. The point of the tournament is to crown a national champion, and that means the team that plays best in the tournament. The team that plays best in the tournament does not necessarily equal “the top team in the country.”

  • YaleFan2011
  • siouxchamp

    Upset by UMD? Sorry….this game wasn’t an upset. UMD by season end..wasn’t even considered a TOP3 or TOP4 WCHA team, but they were strong enough to win against Yale. Look at who Yale was beating and winning against this year! Enough said. RPI and Union were quality teams playing against Yale in the ECAC this year and BOTH were slaughtered in the NCAA. You see what I mean? No matter how great your record is, how high your ranking is–if its a ECAC team-nobody takes you seriously. History and past games prove it.

  • YaleFan2011

    Sorry you didn’t take the ECAC seriously last year…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9iKqVO4Z23E

  • dwvandy

    With all of the whining going on, explain me this…
    O’Neill is ejected, and requires “several stitches for a deep gash above the eye”, and UMD’s Hendrickson also had a mark on his head shown clearly in the TV shot of the UMD bench…. yet it is being denied that there was head to head contact?…. Come on Yalies…. do you know what deductive reasoning is? Bottom line on O’Neill,
    1. Watch his feet… This is Charging.
    2. The puck is gone…This is Interference.
    3. Still denying the head to head contact? With that big of a run when the puck is gone, you are leaving yourself open to an intent to injure call, which also results in an ejection.
    UMD is a good team, they played controlled and poised and seized what was presented them.
    Yale’s season has ended.

  • siouxchamp

    Any of you Yale Fans, have Frozen Four tickets for sale?

  • Nhoopster13H

    Hockeyfan79: “I am neither from MN nor the Northeastern U.S,. and let me just point out a few things that I am sure your highly intelligent, over-educated minds can grasp.”

    Hahahahahahaha somebody’s bitter. Nice sarcasm. Get rejected from the Ivy League, I’m guessing?

  • Hockeyfan79

    Nah, never even bothered to try. :) I’m under no illusions here. But the sarcasm cuts both ways towards me since I have several post graduate degrees and often find that common sense trumps my own “education”. So I was being sarcastic but kinda throwing myself under the bus as well, but I suppose you couldn’t know that. It just seemed like the thing to say to people in an Ivy League school. :)

  • tashx001

    What over-vaunted martyrdom! Keep clutching your pearls, Yale. You keep it classy – throwing stuff on the ice, booing a call where a player was injured, booing goals your team let in… ‘It’s the ref’s fault we were scored on in that 5-on-3!’ As if UMD didn’t kill their own 5-on-3 or, oh ya! score shorthandedly. Penalty Kill: what happens when you quit whining about your lot and do something about it.

  • Inigo_Montoya

    Once again, I would point out to Siouxchamp et al. (if they’re not too busy crying) that UND should be *well aware* that the best team does not always win in a single elimination tournament:

    http://www.yorkregion.com/sports/article/978364–vaughan-s-caprusso-vaults-michigan-in-ncaa-hockey-final

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