MEN’S HOCKEY: Elis fail to make NCAAs

The No. 20 men’s hockey team’s season came to an end two weekends ago after back-to-back losses in its ECAC tournament quarterfinals series against No. 5 Quinnipiac.

The Bobcats (24–8–6, 12–6–4 ECAC) beat Yale (17–11–5, 10–8–4) 6–2 on March 14 and 5–3 the subsequent day, scoring a total of four goals and conceding just one in final frames of the two games. The Elis, who finished sixth in the ECAC, went into postseason ECAC play knowing that they would have to make a deep run in order to return to the NCAA tournament for the fifth time in seven years.

“Inconsistency is the right word to describe our season,” forward Nicholas Weberg ’15 said. “Our league is so good right now where every night you are playing a tough opponent so consistency is key. The whole team is disappointed with ending the season this early. Every year our goal is to be playing in April so not achieving that is obviously disappointing.”

Inconsistency was the Bulldogs’ Achilles’ heel this season, as the Bulldogs never won two games in a weekend. Their best unbeaten streak numbered just seven games, including two ties, and came at the beginning of the season, between Oct. 26 and Nov. 22. The Elis won back-to-back games just twice during the second half of the season before the start of the ECAC tournament. After winning the Ivy League four of the last five years, the Bulldogs wound up in third while going just 6–7–3 against opponents that were nationally ranked at some point during the season.

Coming off a national championship in 2013, expectations in New Haven were high for a Yale team that had continued to grow under head coach Keith Allain’s ’80 tutelage. The Bulldogs, picked to finish first in the ECAC preseason poll, entered the 2013–’14 season as a legitimate contender to return to the Frozen Four.

Despite losing key forwards Andrew Miller ’13 and Antoine Laganiere ’13 along with starting goaltender Jeff Malcom ’13, the Bulldogs returned star power in the form of captain Jesse Root ’14 and forward Kenny Agostino ’14 while adding notable talent in the 2017 freshman class.

Many predicted further success due to the fact that Yale returned six experienced defenseman including its top four blueliners: Gus Young ’14, Tommy Fallen ’15, Ryan Obuchowski ’16 and Rob O’Gara ’16.

The largest uncertainty for the team coming into the season surrounded who would replace Malcom in net. The Bulldogs returned Connor Wilson ’15 and added Alex Lyon ’17 and Patrick Spano ’17. The two freshmen netminders split the season’s first seven games before Lyon emerged as the starter after an impressive 48 save performance in Yale’s 3–3 tie with Quinnipiac on Nov. 9.

Lyon went on to play in 30 games and log 1746 minutes and 19 seconds of game time, the most of any freshman in the ECAC. His three shutouts, including two in back-to-back performances against Rensselaer and Harvard, were tied for 12th most in Division 1 hockey. The Baudette, Minn. native was named conference goaltender of the week on March 10 and rookie of the week for Jan. 1.

Lyon finished second in the ECAC with 796 saves while posting a 0.918 save percentage. The freshman impressed throughout the season and looks set to remain a force for the Bulldogs between the pipes over his next three years.

“Lyon had a great year for us and really stepped up,” Weberg said. “I think he has an even brighter future ahead of him. We are excited to see him as well as our two other goalies develop.”

While goaltending was a question mark for Yale coming into the season, no one doubted who would lead the Bulldogs on offense. The senior duo of Agostino and Root, who finished last season with a total of 64 points, led the Elis this season with 32 and 37 points, respectively. Agostino, who was a third team all-ECAC pick, finished 12th on Yale’s all-time scoring list and 9th on the all-time points list.

Root, recently named the ECAC’s best defensive forward, tied with his linemate for a team-high 14 goals while leading the team with 23 assists. He also had a team-high four game-winning goals and finished the season on a five game point streak. Yale’s captain had the night of his career earlier this season, picking up five assists in a 6–0 trouncing of Brown on Jan. 25. Root, named second team all-ECAC this past week, signed a tryout deal with the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

Agostino, who passed up the opportunity to play in the NHL last season, signed a deal with the Calgary Flames and made his debut in ‘the show’ on April 21, playing over 12 minutes in the Flames’ 6–5 loss against the Nashville Predators. Agostino also featured in the Flames’ Saturday night 8–1 victory against the Edmonton Oilers with four shots in over 13 and a half minutes of ice time.

Yale’s only senior defenseman, Gus Young ’14, went out on a high note. The usually defensive-minded blueliner shattered his career highs in scoring this season, posting 7 goals and 11 assists. Young emerged as a starter his sophomore year and went on to play 110 games for the Bulldogs.

Yale defensemen, including Young, proved vital to the Bulldogs’ scoring this year, contributing over a quarter of the team offense. Last year’s all ECAC rookie team selection, Obuchowski, led the unit with 20 points, while perennial point-producer Fallen finished tied with Young with seven goals. All three aforementioned defenseman finished inside the top six point getters for Yale this season.

“I think the experience that we have lets us be comfortable on the ice,” Obuchowski said. “We know that we can jump up ice and make a play and have our partner there to back us up.”

Despite a disappointing end to the season, the Bulldog faithful should take solace in knowing that the Elis will return boatloads of talent for the 2014–’15 season. In addition to Lyon, several freshman forwards impressed on the ice this season. Despite missing six games due to injury, winger Mike Doherty ’17 posted 18 points in his inaugural campaign including nine goals, good for third highest on the team. The highlight of the rookie’s season came on Feb. 7, when he scored the overtime winner against Rensselaer.

Winger Frankie DiChiara ’17 emerged as a top power forward for Yale, tallying 14 points and playing on a number of different lines for the Bulldogs this season. Center Chris Izmirlian ’17 played 26 games and scored a game-winner in overtime against Merrimack on Nov. 30. After missing almost the entire season, forward Tim Bonner ’17 played in each of the Bulldogs’ last five games, including the four ECAC tournament games.

Forward John Hayden ’17, a Chicago Blackhawks third round draft pick, played on Yale’s top line with Agostino and Root for the second half of the season and finished with eight points in nine games for a season total of 16. The highly regarded winger scored two goals and added an assist versus St. Lawrence on Jan. 18, picking up ECAC player and rookie of the week honors for his efforts.

This season also saw the emergence of several veteran players, highlighted by the scoring output of winger Anthony Day ’15. The junior from Buffalo, N.Y. had an injury-riddled campaign but started the year with 10 points in 12 games, including two goals against nationally ranked Clarkson back on Nov. 2. While a recurring knee issue kept the sniper out of 10 games this year, fans should watch for the rising senior to have an explosive 2014–’15 campaign.

“It’s always great to see guys have success and it’s important for the team to have players develop during the season.” Weberg said. “I think we have only scratched the surface with how good this freshman class can be so it will be exciting to see them next season.”

Sophomore skaters Carson Cooper ’16 and Cody Learned ’16 also found increased ice time this season. Cooper, who missed 12 games with a shoulder injury, emerged as one of Yale’s top two-way forwards and was proficient at the faceoff dot all season. Learned, after playing just eight games last year, featured in 27 contests and surprised many with his speed and toughness on the ice. The diminutive playmaker posted 11 points on the season, including a two-goal performance in Yale’s 5-1 trouncing of Harvard in the teams’ Rivalry on Ice matchup at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 11. The performance earned Learned the game’s MVP award.

Despite not returning to the NCAA tournament to defend their national title, the Bulldogs again helped inflate the standing and stature of the ECAC conference in the eyes of national critics. After placing two teams in last year’s Frozen Four finals, the league featured as many as six nationally ranked teams at one time this season. The top six teams posted a 59–24–11 record against nonconference foes while just five points separated second from fifth in the league, highlighting both the national emergence of ECAC teams and parity within the league.

“I think top to bottom the ECAC is one of the strongest leagues in the nation,” Obuchowski said. “This year we may have three teams that make the national tournament. Its a testament to the hard work we put in day in and day out and the hard fought battles that occur each weekend that makes every team better and better.”

Union won the ECAC regular season and conference tournament titles.

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