How did Jeff Hamilton ’01 thank the fans at Ingalls Rink Saturday night for four years of unflagging support?

It was no problem, really. In his final regular season home game, he just went out and racked up three goals, two of which were of the spectacular variety, and scored the game-winning goal. If that wasn’t enough, he helped the Bulldogs clinch an ECAC playoff berth, put them in position to win the Ivy League championship and gave them more than a reasonable shot at gaining home ice in the ECAC quarterfinals.

All this came the night after he became Yale’s all-time leading scorer, passing Mark Kaufmann ’93 for the top spot. The only thing that didn’t seem to go his way last weekend was his attempt to break the record with a lacrosse-style goal popularized by Michigan’s Mike Legg in the NCAA tournament in 1996 (you’re 0-for-2 on that one, Jeff).

Yeah, there was also the shot that rang off the post at the end of the Vermont game with the Catamounts’ goaltender on the bench. But we can give the guy a break.

“My mother could have put that in,” he said after the game.

But this weekend was certainly more than a one-man show, which was a welcome sight for Yale fans. Luke Earl ’02, who is making head coach Tim Taylor look like a genius for moving him to the top line, threatened to steal the show with three goals and six assists. Nick Deschenes ’03 notched his first career hat trick Friday, Ben Stafford ’01 picked up six assists, and a host of others, including Jeff Dwyer ’04, John Gauger ’01 and Evan Wax ’03 had multi-point weekends.

Heck, nobody’s going to remember this since he gave up six goals, but goaltender Dan Lombard ’02 played a spectacular game in Friday’s 7-6 win. Yale’s defense was pathetic against Vermont, but Lombard came up with a series of brilliant saves to keep his team in the game.

So since Taylor moved Earl to left wing on the top line with Hamilton and Stafford and put Deschenes on either the second or third line, Yale has gone 3-0, scoring 19 goals (the most Yale has put up in a three-game span in six years). The Bulldogs have scored in all nine periods, Earl has 12 points, and the team is suddenly an offensive juggernaut.

Hey, do you remember a time when Yale players notched hat tricks in three straight games? Me neither, but Hamilton did it against Rensselaer, followed by Deschenes against Vermont and Hamilton again Saturday against Dartmouth.

Okay, so things were great at Ingalls Rink this weekend, but anyone who follows this team knows that it means absolutely nothing. Every time the Bulldogs start to get on a roll, the bottom drops out.

Remember the four-game winning streak in January? The sweep of Brown and Harvard, followed by lopsided wins over Holy Cross and Notre Dame? The Elis followed that streak by losing five of six games, scoring seven goals in the span and dropping like a ton of bricks toward the bottom of the ECAC standings.

They have rebounded, but can they sustain it, especially with so much riding on next weekend’s final two regular season games at Harvard and Brown?

They have new life, sitting in a sixth place tie in the ECAC standings with RPI, two points behind Dartmouth for the last home playoff berth, one point ahead of eighth-place Princeton. With the standings as they are right now, Yale holds the tiebreaker with all three teams. The Bulldogs are assured of having the tiebreaker over Dartmouth (Yale swept the Big Green in the season series), but the tiebreakers with RPI and Princeton could change as the top five in the ECAC standings fluctuates — the second tiebreaker used is the team’s record against the top-five teams in the standings.

Yale and Princeton would appear to have the easiest road in the final weekend, traveling to Harvard — which is tied with Cornell for third place — and cellar-dweller Brown. Dartmouth hosts conference leaders St. Lawrence and Clarkson while RPI makes the trip to Cornell and Colgate, which is in 11th.

But this is the ECAC, and as trite as it sounds, you just can’t foresee how anything is going to work out.

Dartmouth, which controls its own destiny for home ice, could get its act together and sweep the North Country leaders — the Big Green hasn’t lost at home since late December. There is also less riding on these last two games for Clarkson and St. Lawrence since the regular season ECAC championship no longer carries with it an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Rensselaer beat Colgate 3-2 and lost to Cornell by the same score way back in November, so anything can happen there. The Red Raiders and Big Red will be out for blood after both teams were swept at Clarkson and St. Lawrence.

And Yale, which has one win in 21 tries since Harvard’s Bright Center opened in 1979, must go on the road to Cambridge, Mass., and Providence, R.I. The Bulldogs have not been a good road team — 3-6 in ECAC play. Until the offense woke up in a 6-3 win over RPI Feb. 17, the Bulldogs had lost seven straight on the road overall, scoring six goals in that span.

As if their home ice hopes were not enough, the Bulldogs will also be playing for their third Ivy League title in the last four years. With two games remaining, Yale is tied atop the Skating Six with Cornell at 12 points. Dartmouth trails by two, Harvard by three. But the Elis have the inside track on the title because Cornell and Dartmouth have no Ivy games left. With one win this weekend, Yale clinches the outright championship.

But Yale fans cannot expect their team to get four points just by showing up at the Bright Center and even at Brown’s Meehan Auditorium (Yale’s 1998 ECAC Championship squad lost there — what an ugly game that was). If the ECAC teaches us anything, it is to expect the unexpected.

What we can expect is to remember the skills of Hamilton, the finest offensive player in the history of Yale hockey, for a long time to come. He put on a show last weekend none in attendance at Ingalls Rink will soon forget. The only question is, will we get to see those skills again in New Haven two weekends from now?

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