Yale men’s hockey coach Tim Taylor said that he was just trying to shake things up when he juggled his lines before last Saturday’s game at Rensselaer. But there’s no way he could have expected this.
After scoring four goals in their previous five games, the Bulldog offense has hit the net 19 times on its way to three straight wins, including a 6-3 triumph over Dartmouth (12-11-4, 9-7-4 ECAC) Saturday and a thrilling 7-6 victory over Vermont (11-5-2, 7-11-2) Friday.
And yes, Taylor has shaken things up.
In three games, the Bulldogs (14-13-0, 10-10-0) have now gone from teetering on the brink of missing the playoffs in 10th place to a legitimate contender for playoff home ice in sixth. They have leapfrogged five teams in seven days, and they have nearly sealed a third Ivy League championship for the seven seniors who played their final regular season home game Saturday.
“This hockey team is now above .500, and that’s a good place to be,” Taylor said. “We keep building our self-confidence, and we’re getting more comfortable every night. We know what can be achieved now, but we can’t control anybody’s doing but our own.”
The biggest risk Taylor took last Saturday was replacing Nick Deschenes ’03 with Luke Earl ’02 on the top line, thus breaking up one of the most productive lines in the ECAC.
All Earl has done since then is run off 12 points in three games, including a staggering nine this weekend. And Deschenes, now on a line with Evan Wax ’03 and Ryan Steeves ’04, put up his first career hat trick Friday night.
Captain and top-line skater Ben Stafford ’01 picked up six assists this weekend, lifting him to the elite 100-point club for his career at Yale.
And with the season on the line, senior Hobey Baker candidate Jeff Hamilton was the man of the hour.
Hamilton posted his third hat trick in 11 games with a trio of goals Saturday night, seizing the ECAC scoring lead and extending his school record for game-winning goals to 18.
Hamilton’s two points against Vermont Friday gave him 161 for his career, passing Mark Kaufmann ’93 to become Yale’s all-time scoring king.
And steely Dan Lombard ’02 stood firm all weekend, making 53 saves in two games to seal the Elis’ first weekend sweep in their last six tries.
“A lot of [the success from the change] may be circumstantial,” Taylor said. “But the changes does allow us to get Luke [Earl] on the wing where he can use his speed and relieves some of the pressure that was on him on the second line.”
The red-hot Earl brought a packed Ingalls Rink to its feet 5:07 into Saturday’s game, beating Big Green goalie Nick Boucher on the power play off a beautiful feed from freshman defenseman Jeff Dwyer ’04.
“I don’t know what’s going on, but the puck is just bouncing my way and I’m playing with two great players,” said Earl, whose tear brings him to 22 points on the season. “That first goal was very nice. It was good to get the lead and force them to play from behind.”
Evan Wax put the Elis up 2-0 at 13:24 when Dwyer and Deschenes executed a pair of beautiful passes to Wax, who completed the picture-perfect goal.
Hamilton kept building on his new scoring record, notching the first of his three goals on the night when he followed up an Earl shot 7:14 into the second to put the Elis up 3-0.
Just when it looked like the Bulldogs were cruising, though, the Big Green came storming back.
Frank Nardella took advantage of Dartmouth’s only power play of the night, following up his own shot to beat Lombard midway through the second stanza.
Mike Maturo, Dartmouth’s leading scorer and Lombard’s best friend from high school, beat his buddy to draw the Big Green within one with 1:24 to go in the period.
Defenseman P.J. Martin knotted the game 2:37 into the third period, but then Hamilton stole the show.
The former All-American stunned the crowd at 5:04 when he garnered an Earl rebound with his back to the net, maneuvered around two defenders, and flipped a seemingly impossible shot that found its way between Boucher’s shoulder and the crossbar.
“I knew there was traffic in front,” Hamilton said. “I just wanted to try to put the puck on net.”
Hamilton dropped more jaws at 17:11 when he stole the puck outside the Dartmouth zone, skated up the right boards with two Big Green defensemen, and ripped a wrist shot that beat Boucher to put Yale up 5-3.
Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet pulled Boucher, but Steeves poked in an empty netter to make it 6-3 and Gaudet had to put Boucher back in.
“We needed that,” Hamilton said. “We’re definitely in good shape, and we’re planning on playing here again in the playoffs. Our goal is still home ice.”
As exciting as Saturday’s game was, it paled in comparison to the night before.
The wacky weekend got off to a wild start Friday night when Luke Earl ’02 beat Vermont’s highly touted goalie Andrew Allen just 1:17 after the opening faceoff.
The two teams hardly gave the sold-out Ingalls Rink crowd a chance to sit down after that.
Earl scored again less than four minutes later, but the Catamounts added two goals of their own, sending the teams to the locker room with a 2-2 tie.
The second period featured seven goals, including Hamilton’s record-breaking 161st point on a goal 52 seconds in, tying the game at three apiece. Deschenes added two-thirds of his hat trick in the period and John Gauger ’01 lit the lamp for Yale as well, lifting the Bulldogs to a 6-5 lead after two periods.
Jeff Miles knotted the game at six 1:16 into the final stanza, but Deschenes’ third goal of the night at 4:38 gave the Elis the 7-6 margin.
Lombard was huge the rest of the way, making a number of key saves to preserve the win.
“That [game] left me speechless,” Taylor said. “The game plan was to put defense first, to play a tight, close-checking game and shut them down. We won the game without following the game plan completely.”
Indeed, the weekend was a wild one for the Bulldogs, who are now tied with Rensselaer, only two points behind Dartmouth in the pivotal race for fifth place — the top five teams earn home ice in the ECAC playoffs. The Elis would win a potential tiebreaker with Dartmouth and are in good position to beat either Rensselaer or Harvard should a tiebreaker become necessary.
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”20768″ ]