After shaking off its season-opening nerves, the No. 16 Yale men’s hockey team returned to winning form in convincing fashion.
A three-goal flurry over a 10-minute span in the first period transformed an early deficit into a comfortable lead to help lift the Elis to a 4–1 win over Sacred Heart in their season opener. Four Yale players netted goals, while the Bulldogs’ elite penalty-kill unit neutralized nine power play threats.
“We did a great job responding to early adversity,” captain and forward John Hayden ’17 said. “That move-on-and-win-back-momentum mentality will benefit us moving forward. We did a great job with our rush offense; capitalizing on the opposition’s turnovers will be one key to our [offensive] production.”
The Elis (1–0–0, 0–0–0 ECAC Hockey) entered their first game of the season after two scrimmages against Brown and Princeton last weekend. By comparison, the Pioneers (2–4–1, 1–2–0 Atlantic Hockey) traveled to the Ingalls Rink with six competitive games already under their belts. Their previous slate included a thrilling 4–4 draw with Union, another ECAC team, and a 7–0 loss to then-No. 8 Boston University.
The Bulldogs have had full practice the last four weeks, but Saturday night provided a different type of test: a collegiate debut for seven freshmen, and a new face between the pipes.
Goaltender Patrick Spano ’17 stepped into the starting role without missing a beat to earn his fourth career win. However, the Bulldogs got off to a shaky start in the opening minutes. Sacred Heart lit the lamp just four minutes into the game with its third shot on net. Forward Jeff Carroll, alone in front of the net, tipped teammate Ruslan Rakhmatov’s shot from the point past Spano at 4:24 to hand the Pioneers an early lead.
Yale found its stride in the ensuing minutes and pulled level with the Pioneers shortly after a near miss from close range by forward Andrew Gaus ’19. Defenseman Chandler Lindstrand ’20, one of three freshmen starting on defense for the Bulldogs, scored his first college goal on a pass from forward Joe Snively ’19, last season’s ECAC Rookie of the Year, firing a high wrist shot off goalie Nathan Perry’s arm at 6:08.
“[Scoring my first career goal] was an unbelievable feeling,” Lindstrand said. “To get it in the first game was special.”
The Bulldogs drew back-to-back penalties in the middle of the opening period as the officials adhered strictly to the letter of the law, but the Yale power play failed to launch. Once the sides found themselves at even strength again, the Bulldogs pulled away for good, thanks to third-line forwards Mike Doherty ’17, Ted Hart ’19 and Chris Izmirlian ’17.
Hart scored the go-ahead goal at 14:58 from Doherty’s assist, rifling a shot just inside the near post from a tight angle. Less than two minutes later at 16:36, Izmirlian doubled the Yale advantage. Doherty broke into the zone before laying the puck back to Izmirlian, who coolly slotted his wrist shot inside the left post. Doherty’s two-assist night matched his point output from Yale’s 5–1 victory over Sacred Heart in his rookie season.
“[The three of us] developed chemistry last year and that’s carried over into this year,” Hart said. “We understand each other as players and we know the kind of plays that make our line successful.”
The Bulldogs skated back onto the ice for the second period facing their first penalty-kill opportunity of the season after a roughing call against forward Frankie DiChiara ’17. Last year, Yale’s penalty kill shattered the NCAA all-time record, successfully killing 94.4 percent of its penalties. Yale’s penalty kill was tested early and often in the second period, as the roughing on DiChiara was the first of six Yale penalties in a period that saw 16 minutes of total penalty time between the two teams.
Head coach Keith Allain ’80 noted before the game that referees in collegiate hockey are actively trying to be tougher on calls this year given a new mandate from the NCAA rules committee to tightly enforce hooking, obstruction and interference penalties.
“If this is the way the game is going to be played? Oof. It’s not very pretty,” Allain said. “It takes a lot of getting used to on the bench. … We have to learn from it, we have to be smarter with our use of sticks.”
The Pioneers spent six of the first 10 minutes of the second period a man up but failed to translate that advantage onto the scoreboard. The effectiveness of the Bulldog penalty kill carried Yale into the final period with its same two-goal advantage.
The calls continued to pile up in the third, but it was the Bulldogs who finally broke through on the power play, increasing their lead four minutes into the period. After a sharp pass from Snively, Hayden blasted a one-timer from the right circle for his 30th career goal.
The Pioneers had some good chances to get back in the game, particularly on two five-on-three opportunities midway through the period, but ultimately were unable to beat Spano and Yale’s defense.
“[Spano’s save on the five-on-three] was the save of the game,” Allain said. “We talk about our penalty kill being good, [and] the goalie’s got to be your best penalty killer. I thought [Spano] had a really good game.”
In his first start since Dec. 5, 2015, Spano stopped 23 of 24 shots, shutting out the Pioneers for the final 55:36 of the game. The Elis killed off all nine of their penalties, and scored once on their seven power play opportunities.
The 4–1 victory against a nonconference opponent provided a good opportunity for both the freshmen and returning players alike to find their rhythm on the ice.
“[This win] is huge for our team,” Spano said. “We just want to start rolling now.”
Yale begins conference play next weekend with games at ECAC opponents No. 20 Union and RPI.