In the final road test of the regular season for the No. 14 Yale men’s ice hockey team, the Bulldogs demonstrated their resilience by earning three points, but a late Dartmouth goal prevented a clean sweep.
The Elis (14–8–5, 9–7–4 ECAC) thrashed rival Harvard 5–2 on Friday before tying Dartmouth 3–3 on Saturday. Dartmouth’s goal with just 1:36 remaining in the third period leveled the score and put a damper on an otherwise solid weekend for the Blue.
“There were positives and negatives from this weekend,” said forward John Hayden ’17. “To start, we had a great win at Harvard, and obviously winning is difficult in this league, especially on the road. We were trying to take the sweep against Dartmouth, and we fell short just at the end. … There’s a lesson there that we need to play the full 60 minutes.”
It was clear heading into Friday’s game that the entire weekend would be crucial for Yale’s chances of making it to the NCAA Tournament. The PairWise rankings, which determine the overall field, had the Bulldogs ranked 21st, and only 16 teams will receive bids to the tournament. Since the rankings were modified this season to give additional weight to road victories, it was paramount for the Elis to take advantage of their final road contests of the season.
And against Harvard (9–14–4, 5–11–4), the Bulldogs came out strong. After a scoreless first period, Yale broke the game open with three goals in the second period, including a pair of power-play goals. The first tally came after forward Stu Wilson ’16 flipped the puck on goal about halfway through the power play, and it found a hole between the near post and Cantab goaltender Steve Michalek.
About five minutes later, defenseman Gus Young ’14 smartly knocked the puck loose from a Harvard player and unleashed a long pass ahead to forward Matthew Beattie ’16, who used the open ice ahead of him to deke Michalek and calmly slot the puck past the Harvard netminder to double the Elis’ lead. The next power-play goal came off the stick of defenseman Ryan Obuchowski ’16. His one-timer came following a nice pass from forward Kenny Agostino ’14, and the score extended Yale’s lead to 3–0 with 6:37 remaining in the second period.
“It’s huge for us,” Hayden said of getting three consecutive goals like the ones against Harvard. “It’s big for our confidence and mentality as a team. Whenever we score, we need to ensure that we stay on the attack and don’t give up, and that’s what we did against Harvard.”
Though the Crimson scored 4:31 into the third period on a power play, captain Jesse Root ’14 salted the game away with a power-play goal of his own with eight minutes remaining. Root added an empty-netter in the final minute to make it 5–2.
The Elis fell behind early in Saturday’s game, however. Less than four minutes into the game, a two-on-one breakaway resulted in a goal for Grant Opperman to give Dartmouth (7–16–4, 6–12–2) the lead. Early in the second period, the Big Green struck again, making it 2–0 with 16:57 remaining in the frame.
But Yale knocked in two goals in a 51-second span to tie the game, with Root and forward Cody Learned ’16 getting in on the action. A third-period score from forward Mike Doherty ’17 delivered the Elis their first lead of the game, which evaporated 8:24 later, when Andy Simpson fired a shot past goaltender Alex Lyon ’17. After a scoreless overtime period, the game ended in a draw, despite the Bulldogs enjoying a 42–27 shot advantage.
“I think we just needed to bear down,” Root said. “We had our chances. I think we just need to focus on the execution of those chances. We could have used more traffic in front of their goalie.”
With the three points, Yale now finds itself just two points behind Cornell for fourth place in the conference. If the Bulldogs can climb past the Big Red, they will have a bye for the first round of the tournament, as well as home ice for the best-of-three series in the quarterfinals.
Getting there, however, will not be easy. Next weekend will see No. 3 Union, as well as a tough Rensselaer squad, come to Ingalls Rink. Even if the Bulldogs can win their way into fourth place, making the NCAA tournament may require a strong showing in the conference tournament.
“We need to keep improving our defense, first and foremost,” Root said. “As we saw this weekend, if we play good defense, that’ll lead to offensive chances. It’s more focusing on our process, which is tight defense and a five-man forecheck, not just one guy doing his job. We need everybody reading and reacting off of each other.”
The games against Union on Friday and Rensselaer on Saturday are both at Ingalls Rink, with the puck dropping at 7 p.m. for both contests.