PITTSBURGH — The Bulldogs were 5–0–2 in overtime games this season entering the Frozen Four. On Thursday evening against UMass-Lowell, they made that record 6–0–2.
Six minutes into overtime in the Frozen Four semifinal, Carson Cooper ’16 forced a turnover just inside Yale’s blue line and spun around, chipping it off the boards and out of the zone. Captain Andrew Miller ’13 shot up the center of the ice and lunged for Cooper’s loose puck, barely beating a UMass defender.
Miller sped down the right side of the ice, navigated his way around a defender and broke away toward the net. He faked left, slid the puck to his right side and tapped it through the legs of UMass’ sprawling Connor Hellebuyck.
The Yale crowd exploded, Miller punched the air in victory and head coach Keith Allain ’80 rushed onto the ice with his team to celebrate the 3–2 victory and Yale’s first trip to the Frozen Four final in program history.
“To me, up until right now, that was probably the biggest goal in the history of Yale hockey,” Allain said.
Twenty, 40 and 60 minutes into the game, it was clear that the Bulldogs were bent on outshooting, outskating and outhustling their opponents. Yale opened up an 11–5 edge in shots during the first period and continued to outshoot its opponents in every period. When the buzzer signaled the end of the third, Yale had built a 40–18 shot advantage.
The Bulldogs grabbed an early lead in their second-ever Frozen Four appearance when freshman Mitch Witek ’16 tipped the puck over the leg of the UMass goaltender at 12:55 in the first period. The goal was the first of Witek’s Yale career and came during a Yale power play that has proven itself the 10th most efficient in the nation, with a 21.21 percent conversion rate. Miller notched his 133th assist on the goal — tying him with Bob Brooke ’83 for the Yale record.
Right-winger Antoine Laganiere ’13 added to the tally six minutes and 13 seconds later. After UMass defenders blocked two shots from Matt Killian ’15, Laganiere picked up the rebound and slammed it past goaltender Connor Hellebuyck.
While Yale peppered shots on Hellebuyck for the entire game, the River Hawks had only one major offensive burst in the game and it lasted a mere 14 seconds. But they made it count.
Yale had just killed the first UMass power play of the game and roughly five minutes remained in the second period when successive goals from team captain Riley Wetmore and center Joseph Pendenza put UMass on the board and erased the early lead Yale had taken.
Even then, though, the momentum didn’t switch. The Elis were unable to set the red light flashing in the third, but they kept the pressure on — with 16 shots to UMass’ 13.
“One thing we preached all year and especially in the playoffs is there are going to be some ups and downs,” defenseman Gus Young ’14 said. “They’re going to score some goals. We’re going to score some goals. They are going to give up chances; we are going to give up chances. … We’ve been in that position before.”
And then came overtime. Yale has tied or won every single overtime scenario it has faced this season. It shocked the nation in the West Regional when Jesse Root ’14 took down Minnesota with a one-timer nine seconds into extra time.
Today, the game-winner came from Miller.
“It was just a matter of time before we popped one,” Miller said at the postgame conference. His efforts earned him the team award for the game — an old, yellow hockey helmet, which Miller wore to meet the press. The helmet resembles the one worn by Jari Kurri, a five-time Stanley Cup winner and member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Yale’s appearance today was the first it has made in the Frozen Four since 1952. The team has never made it to the final round of the tournament, nor has it won a Division 1 national title.
Yale will take the ice in the CONSOL Energy Center at 7 p.m. on Saturday to face off against Quinnipiac. Both teams are seeking their first Frozen Four championship.