For the fourth time in the past five years, the men’s hockey team will pursue the national championship in the NCAA tournament.
On Friday at 2 p.m., the 15th-seeded Bulldogs will face off against the No. 2 Minnesota Golden Gophers in Grand Rapids, Mich. The teams will play in the West Regional bracket, and the victor will move on to play the winner of the North Dakota-Niagara contest in the tournament’s second round. While the Bulldogs (18–12–3, 12–9–1 ECAC) had a difficult weekend in the ECAC semi-finals and third-place game, falling decisively to Union and Quinnipiac, they hope to leave those games in the past and look forward to the challenge ahead.
“I think [the losses] will fuel us to be even more focused and more determined heading into the tournament,” forward Jesse Root ’14 said. “Obviously we are excited but our goal hasn’t changed, and that is to make it to the Frozen Four. We’ll be doing everything we can to make that a reality.”
Yale participated in three straight tournaments from 2009–’11, and while they did not make it to the Frozen Four during that span, in both 2010 and 2011, the Elis fell in the second round to the eventual NCAA champions. If the Bulldogs make it past the first two rounds this year, they will advance to the Frozen Four in Root’s hometown of Pittsburgh, Penn. This weekend’s games, however, will be played in captain Andrew Miller’s ’13 home state of Michigan, where he has not played a game since early 2007.
“It’s your senior year and it’s your last opportunity to win a national championship,” Miller said.
The Bulldogs have flown to games earlier in the season — when they played at Denver and Colorado College in September — but head coach Keith Allain thinks the plane ride to Grand Rapids will build up some extra excitement as opposed to the standard bus trip.
“It’s a little more big-time than getting on a bus,” Allain said. “We’re looking forward to it.”
Jeff Malcolm ’13 has been solid in net for the Elis in the postseason, boasting a 0.902 save percentage. The Elis were able to hold cross-town rival and NCAA tournament No. 1 seed Quinnipiac to just three goals in the ECAC third place game, boding well for the Bulldog defense heading into the Minnesota matchup. Yale also had two goals waved off after review in that game, and the three-goal final margin was not fully indicative of the Bulldogs’ performance.
The Elis have played a fast-paced and physical style all season, wearing their opponents down until the Bulldogs’ superior condition has allowed them to take control. As the game against the Gophers approaches, Root said the Bulldogs will be fighting fire with fire.
“The are a skilled team with a ton of speed,” Root said. “It should be a good challenge and we’re looking forward to it.”
But while the Bulldogs are poised to defend against the top-ranked offense in the country, they will have to return to the offensive form they showed earlier in the postseason as they outscored St. Lawrence 10–1 in the second round of the ECAC tournament if they want to advance past Minnesota’s No. 3 team defense.
Linemates Kenny Agostino ’14 and Miller are both ranked in the top 50 scorers in the country and have developed strong chemistry over the season with Root, leading to Miller’s first-team all-ECAC selection and Agostino’s selection to the all-ECAC second-team.
Forward Antoine Laganiere ’13 can also help propel the Eli attack. In the final series of the first round of ECAC playoffs last season, Laganiere put away a hat trick to lift the Bulldogs over the Princeton Tigers.
Yale will have to look to all members of the team if it wants to overcome such a strong defense, however. Forward Stu Wilson ’16 has two game-winning goals this season — both in overtime — and could play a crucial role if the Bulldogs are to make a deep playoff run.
“It’s do or die for everyone,” Miller said.
The Elis will head to Van Andel Arena poised to take on Minnesota on Friday, March 29.