The men’s hockey team has had trouble putting together a consistent weekend all season, and its most recent performances against Union and Rensselaer were no exception.
Coming off a demoralizing 5-1 loss to 10th-place Union (11-14-3, 7-10-1 ECAC) Friday night — the Elis’ fifth loss in their last six games and seventh straight road defeat — the Bulldogs (12-13-0, 8-10-0) bit back with a crucial 6-2 win over Rensselaer (14-12-2, 8-2-2) Saturday.
The Dutchmen avenged their Dec. 9 loss to Yale, sending the Bulldogs into a tenth-place tie with Princeton, and placing them on the brink of missing the conference playoffs. But Saturday’s win was just what the doctor ordered for the Elis, whose first road win since Nov. 21 at Princeton was good enough to vault them all the way up to seventh place before the night was done.
“We finally looked like the Yale team that we need to,” Eli goaltender Dan Lombard ’02 said. “It’s great to see that we come through when our backs are up against the wall.”
Yale’s prescription for victory Saturday was simple — Jeff Hamilton ’01, and in heavy doses. The senior Hobey Baker candidate registered his second hat trick in a month and the fourth of his Yale career en route to a four-point evening.
Hamilton’s four points gives him 41 on the season — good enough for third place in the ECAC — and 159 on his career, just one point shy of Mark Kaufmann ’93 atop Yale’s all-time scoring list.
Hamilton also received a much-needed shot in the arm when head coach Tim Taylor shook things up Saturday, changing up all four of his lines on a stagnant offense that had scored only four goals in its last five games.
“It worked really well, and it gave us balance on all four lines,” said forward Luke Earl ’02, who replaced Nick Deschenes ’03 on the top line with Hamilton and team captain Ben Stafford ’01. “It just goes to show you that it doesn’t matter who you play with if you play well.”
Taylor’s move turned out to be genius, as his new top line accounted for eight points on the night.
Just 19 seconds into the contest, Yale earned a quick power play opportunity when Carson Butterwick visited the penalty box for slashing. Deschenes — still on the top power play unit — tipped in a Joe Dart ’01 shot on the man advantage to give the Elis their first road lead since the Dec. 1 loss at Cornell.
“It was a huge goal because it allowed us to get our confidence back right away,” said Dart, who has notched four points in Yale’s last four games.
Hamilton then added an unassisted, shorthanded goal just over two minutes later when he stole the puck and ripped a shot between the legs of RPI goaltender Nate Marsters.
“It was just an individual effort by a great player,” Lombard said. “We needed that.”
Engineer forward Ben Barr notched a power-play goal at 3:06 and then Conrad Barnes evened things up with a goal at 5:50 in the second period.
But the Bulldogs showed their characteristic resiliency after that, and Taylor’s bunch ran off three straight goals. Earl sprinted down the ice and parked himself in the slot, where he banged in a rebound off a Hamilton shot to put Yale up 3-2 just 40 seconds after RPI tied it.
“We knew the first shift after the goal would be huge was key,” Earl said. “It was either let them keep the momentum or get it back for us.”
Hamilton got his second goal 2:12 later, firing a shot from the point that beat Marsters, and Spencer Rodgers ’02 made it three in a row for Yale with a breakaway goal at 17:41 in the second.
Lombard allowed another goal in the third, but stayed strong to tally 25 saves and earn his 11th win of the season.
As time ticked away, Hamilton added an empty-netter to complete his hat trick — a fitting farewell to Houston Fieldhouse for the senior, whose goals Saturday were his first there since he scored in Yale’s ECAC championship-clinching 3-1 win over defending national champion Rensselaer three years ago.
While Houston Fieldhouse conjured up fond memories for the Elis, Achilles Rink in Schenectady, N.Y., was a house of horrors Friday.
Senior captain Brian Yackel started things off for Union, scoring 3:53 into the game to give Union a 1-0 lead. Randy Dagenais notched what turned out to be the game-winner a little less than 10 minutes later, and Kris Goodjohn scored on the two-man advantage in the second period.
Lombard allowed two more goals, including another to Yackel, before being replaced by Peter Dobrolowski ’04 with 8:33 left in the game.
A few minutes later, Lee Jelenic ’01 broke up Union goaltender Brandon Snee’s shutout bid with a goal at 15:03 in the final stanza.
“It was a big disappointment for everyone,” Earl said. “We have no answers, we just didn’t come out strong.”
With 16 points, Yale is currently tied for seventh with Princeton and Vermont, just a point ahead of Colgate and Union in tenth. Since only 10 teams make the playoffs, odds are that one of those five teams will stay home for the postseason.
“I told the guys that we have to stop [splitting weekends],” Taylor told U.S. College Hockey Online. “We have two home games next weekend, and a team that gets a four-point weekend will be in control.”
Yale and Princeton host Vermont and Dartmouth next weekend, while Union stays at home for Brown and Harvard. Colgate makes the tough trip up to St. Lawrence and Clarkson to battle with the conference’s top two teams.
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